Government & Politics

Clinton, Sanders, O’Malley talk immigration reform, economic equality to La Raza in Kansas City

Hillary Clinton took the stage to a big ovation Monday afternoon at the NCLR annual conference at the Kansas City Convention Center.
Hillary Clinton took the stage to a big ovation Monday afternoon at the NCLR annual conference at the Kansas City Convention Center. rsugg@kcstar.com

Three candidates seeking the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination spoke to the nation’s largest Latino advocacy group Monday in Kansas City, but — unsurprisingly, perhaps — it was GOP candidate Donald Trump, who wasn’t there, who drew the most attention.

Candidates Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley all attacked Trump, by name, for his comments suggesting some immigrants are killers and rapists. All three spoke to the annual conference of the National Council of La Raza.

“An outrage,” Sanders said. “Hate-spewing,” O’Malley claimed. “Appalling,” Clinton chimed in.

“I have just one word for Mr. Trump,” she said. “Basta. Enough.”

Their criticisms drew loud applause from conference attendees, again not a surprise. La Raza leadership had roundly denounced Trump’s statements over the weekend.

But the candidates also sought to capitalize on Trump’s remarks by linking them with other GOP presidential hopefuls.

“Why did it take weeks for most of you to speak out?” Clinton asked, referring to her potential Republican opponents.

O’Malley made a similar point. “The real problem isn’t that the Republicans have such a hate-spewing character running for president,” he said. “The real problem is it’s so hard telling him apart from the other candidates.”

Several Republican candidates have urged Trump to tone down his rhetoric, a prospect that seems unlikely for now. A Monmouth University poll published Monday showed the businessman at 13 percent among Republican voters, up from just 2 percent in June. He’s now in third place in the poll.

And on Twitter, Trump emphasized the recent prison escape of a Mexican drug lord known as El Chapo. “When will people, and the media, start to apologize to me for my statement, ‘Mexico is sending….’, which turned out to be true?” he wrote.

No Republican candidates spoke in person at the La Raza convention. A party spokesman said the candidates avoided the group because its policy priorities are too liberal.

The back-and-forth Monday reflects the importance both parties have placed in the Latino vote in 2016. Latinos are the nation’s fastest-growing ethnic group, and immigration reform remains a top priority for groups like La Raza.

At the same time, the Democratic candidates who spoke Monday sought to expand their messages beyond that issue. All broadly criticized income inequality and argued for an increase in the minimum wage. They promised to address the cost of college. Clinton, former U.S. senator and secretary of state,  argued for expanding early childhood education.

“If you work hard and you do your part, you should be able to get ahead and stay ahead,” the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination told the crowd. “We are best when we lift each other up and leave no one behind.”

Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state and one-time U.S. senator, told the country’s largest Latino advocacy group on Monday that America needs to restore an economic bargain that rewards families for hard work. (Video by Rich Sugg)

She also used her remarks to lash at former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has led most polls in the early stages of the GOP race. She picked on comments he made suggesting that Americans need to work more hours.

Those workers “don’t need a lecture,” she said. “They need a raise.”

Bush has said he meant to suggest part-time workers should get more hours, not that full-time workers should work more.

Republicans criticized Clinton’s speech.

“Latinos have heard the same story from Democrats for far too long, whether it’s the economy, education or immigration,” said a statement from Ruth Guerra, director for Hispanic media for the Republican National Committee. “Democrats’ playbook is full of empty rhetoric and broken promises.”

Clinton began her remarks an hour behind schedule. It didn’t seem to bother more than 2,000 people in Bartle Hall’s Grand Ballroom, who waited patiently for her speech.

“She wanted the families to be able to be families and to live off their wages,” said Antonia Lozano, a community activist. “I think that’s really the most important.”

Sanders spoke Monday morning, urging a $15 hourly minimum wage and free public college tuition. America needs an “economy that works for all of us and not just a handful of billionaires,” he said.

In a brief meeting with reporters, the independent Vermont senator said he hoped to bring his liberal message to more conservative states like Missouri and Kansas.

“I’m not just going to blue states,” he said. “We will go there, but I’m going to go to very, very red states and raise the issue … We have seen a massive transfer of wealth.”

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders of Vermont addresses a standing room crowd at the National Council of La Raza convention at the Kansas City Convention Center in July 2015.

Sanders was warmly received. “He really knows how to speak to a crowd,” said Karen Stran of the Mi Casa Resource Center in Denver.

Some supporters carried signs for Sanders, a self-described socialist. He planned to return to Washington in the afternoon.

Clinton had a fundraiser scheduled Monday afternoon in Kansas City. O’Malley, former Maryland governor, had a breakfast campaign event in town Monday morning, which roughly 75 people attended.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley told the group that he will work to make the U.S. more welcoming to immigrants. (Video by Rich Sugg)

The Star’s Kristen Polizzi and Austin Huguelet contributed to this report. To reach Dave Helling, call 816-234-4656 or send email to dhelling@kcstar.com.

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