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2012 Hopefuls To Skip Hispanic Forum

By CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN, politico.com

WASHINGTON - It was billed, in part, as a forum for the 2012 Republican presidential field to speak directly to Hispanics — a replica of the vaunted Conservative Political Action Conference, but tailored to the fastest-growing slice of the electorate.

Yet, when former Gov. Jeb Bush, former Sen. Norm Coleman and former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez open the first Hispanic Leadership Network conference next month in Miami, the only potential presidential candidate confirmed to attend — so far — is Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.


Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney declined the invite. So did South Dakota Sen. John Thune, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Texas Gov Rick Perry.
Newt Gingrich is “amenable” to attending but hasn’t committed yet, his spokesman said.

And others in the group, including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, didn’t respond to inquiries from POLITICO.

A poor showing could raise doubts about the commitment of Republicans to court Hispanics, one of the open-ended questions of the 2012 presidential cycle.

Jim Landry, spokesman for the American Action Network, which created the Hispanic group, said the organizers extended invites to the entire presidential field, but it was never the main reason for holding the conference.

The confirmed speakers includes Pawlenty, Texas Sen. John Cornyn, Florida Gov.-elect Rick Scott, Republican powerbroker Fred Malek and former Bush adviser Dana Perino, who will address immigration, media, messaging, jobs, trade and education.

“It’s an Hispanic forum, it‘s not a presidential forum,” Landry said. “We would really like to keep the focus on reaching out to the Hispanic community and communicating the center-right message. That aspect was never really the focus of our agenda.”

President Barack Obama has signaled his intent to fight hard for Latino voters, telling Congressional Hispanic Caucus members this week that he will renew his push for comprehensive immigration reform in 2011, even though it stands little chance of passing. In turn, some Republicans want their party to make a proactive play for Hispanics, in part by changing their tone on immigration, but not necessary the substance of their enforcement-first approach.

The Hispanic Leadership Network — a nonprofit offshoot of the American Action Network, one of the GOP's most active outside-money groups this year — is one of a handful of Republican efforts aimed at ramping up the outreach. But it is perhaps the highest-profile endeavor, given that it’s backed by Republicans connected to the Bushes, who are well-respected in the Hispanic community.

And the conference seemed like a safe, but strategic, opportunity for Republicans: A forum co-hosted by Jeb Bush and attended by moderates and conservatives in a battleground state where a majority of Latinos backed the GOP nominees for governor and senator in 2010.

“This is a free throw,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, which supports comprehensive immigration reform. “If all you really want to do is court Marco Rubio’s support, you should go.”

To be fair, none of the potential candidates has publicly declared their intent to run. And in contrast to the 2008 cycle, formal announcements aren’t likely to come until the late winter or spring. The conference also coincides with the Republican National Committee winter meeting.

“It is not good timing,” said Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, who plans to go to the conference. “It is not ideal.”

“This may become the CPAC for Hispanic Republicans,” he added, “but it is not going to be that now.” 


STORY TAGS: HISPANIC, LATINO, MEXICAN, MINORITIES, CIVIL RIGHTS, DISCRIMINATION, RACISM, DIVERSITY, LATINA, RACIAL EQUALITY, BIAS, EQUALITY

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