Biden to speak at annual Latino conference

Vice President Joe Biden will be the keynote speaker at the National Council of La Raza’s annual conference in Las Vegas July 7-10 as the Latino group holds its meeting for the first time in Nevada, an election battleground that could decide who wins the White House in November.

President Barack Obama is sending several other top officials to address the Hispanic leaders too, the group said Tuesday, including Attorney General Eric Holder, Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan and Richard Cordray, the consumer protection chief the president appointed over objections of congressional Republicans.

La Raza invited Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney to speak to the conference, but his campaign hasn’t confirmed whether he will attend or send a representative, according to organizers.

Obama spoke at La Raza’s conference last year in Washington, D.C. But the stakes are higher this year as the president woos Latino voters to ensure his re-election. Obama overwhelmingly won Hispanics four years ago, but Romney is trying to cut into that support by arguing he could better fix the economy and create jobs.

La Raza, which bills itself as bipartisan, is the largest Hispanic civil rights advocacy group in the United States.

Ron Estrada, vice president of La Raza, said GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval will deliver a videotaped speech because he will be out of town during the conference. Other Republicans are welcome as well, Estrada said, including U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev. His Democratic opponent, U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley, plans to speak at the conference.

“It is in both parties’ interests to attend this conference,” said Estrada, adding that La Raza decided to meet this year in Nevada because it is a 2012 battleground. “We are in constant talks with the Romney campaign.”

In recent days, Obama has moved to shore up the Latino vote by announcing he will not deport young immigrants whose parents brought them to the United States illegally. Hispanics have been energized by the June 15 announcement as Republicans continue to oppose the DREAM Act, which would offer those young adults a path to U.S. citizenship if they attend college or serve honorably in the U.S. military.

Last week, Obama courted hundreds of Hispanic leaders by addressing the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials at a meeting in Orlando, Fla., in another battleground state. He promoted his efforts on immigration and reminded the crowd that Romney opposes the DREAM Act.

Romney, too, spoke to the group the day before Obama. He received a colder welcome as he unveiled his own immigration reform plans, including a proposal to let young Hispanics who serve honorably in the U.S. military to seek American citizenship – one of the goals of the DREAM Act.

Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, D-Las Vegas, attended the Florida meeting and on Tuesday joined La Raza leaders to promote the upcoming Las Vegas conference as another chance to show Hispanics’ growing power.

Flores spoke in English and repeated her remarks in Spanish, addressing an array of Spanish-language media who cater to the Hispanic population, which exploded in Nevada during the past couple of decades.

The four-day La Raza conference will be held at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center on the Strip.

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