One would think that the Republican presidential candidates would clamor to appear in Kansas City at the national convention of the largest civil rights and advocacy organization for Latinos.
After all, the much ballyhooed Hispanic vote is the one to court, right?
That’s what the GOP said. Mitt Romney captured only 27 percent of Hispanic voters in 2012. The statistical implosion caused Republicans to issue introspective papers on how the party needs to regain the 40 percent of the Latino vote totals that George W. Bush commanded in 2004.
But two weeks out from the July 11-14 National Council of La Raza’s convention, former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, is the only presidential candidate who has confirmed he will attend.
Most of the declared candidates cited scheduling conflicts as the rationale for saying no, although Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio haven’t completely shunned the possibility of showing up.
Here is the reason the Republicans will probably skip: The GOP candidates have to get past ultra-right primary voters. There is a fear of tea partiers, of being caught sounding reasonable on immigration.
What a pathetic, rudderless way to seek elected office. There is also the demographic reality of not enough Latino voters in key states.
Candidates could burnish their credentials by attending, not lessen them. Especially if they bear this in mind: As much as immigration dominates political discussions, polling repeatedly shows that it is not the top concern for Latinos. Education, jobs, health care and the economy are more regularly cited.
Jeb Bush would have the most to gain. He has held moderate views on immigration reform, he has a long history in Hispanic-heavy Texas and Florida, he is fluent in Spanish and his wife is from Mexico. Likewise, Rubio has had wide-ranging experiences outside his Cuban-American background in Miami, including a brief college stint in northwest Missouri and early school years in Las Vegas, a period that exposed him to Mexican-Americans.
Contrary to popularly exploited images, the vast majority of Latinos in the U.S. are native-born Americans. Nearly three in four are U.S. citizens.
“It’s a surprise to me that they are reluctant to come and engage directly with the community,” said Janet Murguía, president and CEO of NCLR.
The NCLR conference usually draws 10,000 to 20,000 people, depending on the city.
The presidential contenders’ invitations, Murguía said, are still open.