Wooing Hispanic Voters At Home, Why Are Republicans Turning To Latin America?


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Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey will journey to Mexico next month to meet with the country’s new president, court its corporate titans and mingle with its cultural leaders.
Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky is about to set off for Guatemala, where he will put his ophthalmology training to use by treating local patients with eye disorders.
And Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin is pleading with the government of Mexico to open a first-ever consulate in his state.
In Washington, Republicans keep taking steps that imperil their relationship with Hispanic voters, passing legislation to accelerate the deportation of Central American children at the southern border and comparing their influx to a warlike “invasion,” compounding an electoral disadvantage that many in the party are convinced cost them the White House in 2012.
But in a vivid display of the strife within the party over immigration, likely contenders for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination are charting their own, very different course: delivering pointed and personal overtures to the native countries from which millions of Hispanic Americans have immigrated.
The result is a tug of war between congressional Republicans, who are unleashing ever-harsher language and legislation to rein in illegal immigration, and party leaders with their eyes on the White House, who are determined to build bridges to a crucial constituency that has long been neglected.
“It’s become painfully obvious,” said Hector V. Barreto, who has advised every Republican presidential campaign since 2000, “that these guys are thinking bigger than those in Congress.”
He called the Latin American outreach by Mr. Christie, Mr. Paul and Mr. Walker “a totally different approach” that recognizes what a liability the party’s current message on immigration has become.
“They really do need to disassociate themselves from the party in Washington,” Mr. Barreto said.
Mr. Christie, who has prided himself on his appeal to Hispanic voters — 51 percent of whom backed his re-election last year — will travel to Mexico in early September for three days, aides said.
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