Political Eye: GOP hoping to sway Hispanic voters

A group with strong ties to social conservatives jumps into Nevada this week with an effort to persuade Hispanics to think again if they plan to vote for Democrats this year.

The self-described grass-roots effort by American Principles in Action will campaign on "limited government," and it is planning attacks on the Obama administration’s record-high deportations of illegal immigrants.

On immigration, it plans to steer Latinos toward an alternative to the Democrat-backed DREAM Act that reportedly is being prepared, but has not yet been introduced, by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

In an effort to chip away at Democratic dominance in recent years, the group also plans to emphasize the culture wars, on the thinking that gay marriage, contraception and abortion can be helpful issues to appeal to family-oriented Latinos.

"As you can see from polls, it is not going to be decisive," organizer Alfonso Aguilar says of the social agenda. "But for people of faith they are crucial issues, and in a close election they can certainly make a huge difference."

Outside efforts to sway Hispanic voters only underscores the importance of that demographic widely seen as key to the presidential and U.S. Senate races in Nevada this year. About 16 percent of the state’s electorate was Hispanic in 2010, according to exit polling.

"We are going to tell them to vote and to vote their values," said Aguilar, a former Bush administration official involved in what will be called Nevada Hispanics.

The launch is Wednesday at the Las Vegas Latin Chamber of Commerce.

Aguilar said the effort initially will try to reach Hispanics through churches in Clark County, and is prepared to spend as much as $1 million on advertising and on the ground. For starters, it is bringing in Gary Bauer, who ran for president in 2000 on a values platform, to speak at a June 13 town hall.

Zac Petkanas, a Nevada Democratic spokesman, said the effort comes "too little, too late."

"While Democrats have been organizing within the Latino community for years, this last-minute parachute into Nevada by an out-of-state group can’t make up for the fact that Mitt Romney opposes comprehensive immigration reform, pledges to veto the DREAM Act and supports the radical Arizona and Alabama laws," he said.

American Principles in Action was established in 2009 to promote conservative social goals. In 2010 it backed Republican Carly Fiorina for U.S. Senate in California and claimed it helped boost her support among Latinos even though she lost to incumbent U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer.

The organization is a political nonprofit that isn’t required to disclose its donors, which has raised eyebrows with one ethics watchdog group . In a 2010 report, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics called American Principles in Action "a shadowy group aiming to influence Latino voters."

"The money and muscle behind the Latino push seems to involve few Latinos," the report said. "Instead it came from a network of conservatives with a track record of creating sophisticated grass-root campaigns behind social initiatives."

Aguilar rejected the criticism, saying, "We have had committed Latinos that have been donors."

He said the group’s campaign in California "was all Latino-led. Our board in Nevada is all Latino."

As for reporting sources of funding, "Our donors prefer not to be revealed. They are committed citizens who are concerned about the future of the country and who understand conservatives have to reach out to Latinos."

– Steve Tetreault

LONG NAME AND BIG DISTRICT

Unless you closely follow the Nevada Legislature, you probably have never heard of Pete Goicoechea, a Basque with an almost impossible to spell or pronounce name who is a rancher from Eureka and a Republican who has been the Assembly minority leader for the past two years.

But if cattle, wild horses and rattlesnakes counted as one’s constituents, then Goicoechea would be almost as well known as U.S. Sens. Harry Reid and Dean Heller.

Goicoechea is the odds-on favorite to win the new state Senate District 19 seat that covers most of the eastern half of the state – running more than 500 miles from Jarbidge near the Idaho border to Primm on the California border. That’s a 60,493-square-mile district, or more than half of Nevada’s 110,540 square miles.

The district now is represented by term-limited state Sen. Dean Rhoads, R-Tuscarora. But because of redistricting and how Clark County has outpaced the rest of the state in population growth, it now is even larger than the one Rhoads has represented for 30 years.

To put it another way, Senate District 19 is about the same size as the New England states of Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire combined.

Another rural Nevada district, state Senate District 14, is 37,580 square miles, or slightly more than the size of Indiana. It covers most of the western side of Nevada, except for the Reno-Carson-Douglas County area, and is represented by Don Gustavson, R-Sparks. Like District 19, it is a predominantly Republican district.

– Ed Vogel

FINAL WORD ON HIRING FREEZE

New state Division of Human Resources Management Administrator Lee-Ann Easton had to be the most embarrassed person in the state May 21.

That day the Review-Journal ran a story about state government’s 8.8 percent vacancy rate in filling state jobs. Easton said in the story that the state is trying to fill jobs, but is having difficulty because many people think state government still has a hiring freeze.

Wonder why they would think that? An alert reader looked through the Human Resource Management website and found it still carried the 2010 announcement from former Gov. Jim Gibbons that the state has a hiring freeze.

-Ed Vogel

REPUBLICAN FUNDRAISING

State Sen. Mike Roberson, R-Las Vegas, is wearing a broad grin these day, thanks to the success state Senate Republican candidates have achieved in raising funds for their campaigns.

Roberson, expected to be the Republican state Senate leader in 2013, says Republican candidates have received more contributions than their expected Democratic opponents in all five key races the GOP wants to win.

Counting donations from 2011 and those reported Tuesday with the secretary of state, Roberson noted Republican Steve Kirk has raised about $35,000 more than Democrat Joyce Woodhouse in District 5, and that Republican Mark Hutchison has gained $111,000 more than Democrat Bennie Yerushalmi in District 6.

In District 9, the Republican candidate, Mari Nakashima St. Martin, has a narrow $2,100 fundraising edge over Democrat Justin Jones.

In District 18, Republican Scott Hammond has raised $80,000 more than Democrat Kelli Ross.

In what could be the most exciting fall race, Republican Greg Brower holds a $158,000 fundraising edge over Democrat Sheila Leslie in Washoe County’s District 15. Leslie is a former legislator who moved into Brower’s district and quickly announced she was challenging him.

With Democrats now holding a narrow 11-10 edge in the state Senate over Republicans, expect both parties to increase their fundraising in the summer and fall.

Studies have shown that in about 80 percent of the legislative elections, the candidates with the most money end up victorious.

– Ed Vogel

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC. Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900.

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