ALEXANDRIA, VA -- With all the talk about immigration – from Donald Trump in his presidential bid declaration to Pope Francis in the opening line of his White House speech – a group of GOP leaders and candidates said it’s not a subject dominating their conversations with voters as they try to reach Latinos.
GOP Chairman Reince Priebus met with Virginia Latino candidates facing November election races and business people Wednesday afternoon.
The meeting at an Alexandria, Va. restaurant – several miles away from the hoopla in Washington, D.C. over Pope Francis’ visit – is part of the party’s strategy that Virginia GOP chairman John Whitbeck described as getting into the community and meeting some of the leaders who can help bring the GOP’s message to new communities the party is trying to tap.
Priebus waved off suggestions that Trump’s anti-Mexican comments, seen by parts of the Latino community as anti-Hispanic, as well as the shift right on immigration by other GOP 2016 candidates may be creating difficulties for that effort. He emphasized instead diversity of opinion on immigration among Latinos.
“It’s like going to 31 flavors, you can choose whatever flavor you want and we’ve got plenty of them and that’s what people are gonna do right now and whoever the nominee’s going to be we’re going to be 100 percent behind them,” he said.
Democrat Party spokesman Pablo Manriquez responded: "If the best the GOP can do is to write Trump off to diversity issues, they are in for a long election."
But John Guevara, a Republican candidate for Sully District supervisor in Fairfax, County, Virginia Board of Supervisors, says that is not necessarily the case in his area.
“That issue doesn’t come up,” he said about immigration. And, “I don’t raise it and they don’t raise it.”
Guevara is running in one of the largest districts in the county, a historical community of about 175,000. Latinos make up about 12 percent of that population.
Virginia Latino Republican candidate John Guevara says the issues voters talks about are transportation, education and the budget.
Guevara said he focuses on local issues raised by the people he meets when he goes door to door. Those usually are transportation, education and the budget.
“They can’t get to work. They can’t get home … they focus on what is local,” he said. “Their narrative when I knock on doors is, I want to get home on time to see my kids. I want to get to work on time.”
Asked about Trump’s plan to deport people in the country illegally and its effect on local schoolchildren, Guevara said his job would be to ensure there are good schools for local children regardless of status.
Guevara faces longtime Sully District School Board member Kathy Smith, the Democratic nominee for the county supervisors board position.
Danny Vargas, a candidate for the Virginia Assembly, said immigration comes up very rarely when he campaigns in his district, which is 22 percent Latino.
“My question when I talk to voters is ‘What’s important to you, and of the hundreds of families I’ve talked to, immigration has come up maybe three times,” Vargas said. Instead the voters bring up education, jobs and safe neighborhoods.
“If they do end up being about immigration, I’ll tell them, I’m with you, I think we need a solution,” Vargas said.
Vargas faces Democrat Jennifer Boysko for the Virginia House seat.
About 5.3 million children living in the U.S. have at least one parent illegally in the U.S. The majority of those children are born in the U.S. A recent report by the Urban Institute and the Migration Policy Institute found the effects of deportation or detention of a parent on children include psychological trauma and material hardship, as well as more family and economic instability for communities.
John Quiñonez, a local health care company business owner who spearheaded arranging the restaurant meeting, said he was asked to support Trump and listened to Trump’s pitch in a conference call.
“One thing I don’t doubt about the man is he is a patriot .. I think he’s too full of himself . . . He doesn’t think about some of the words,” Quiñonez said. “One of the things the he did is he opened up the conversation on some of things a lot of us have been saying and thinking privately . . . “
“My ex-wife’s cousin was killed by an illegal, shot in the back. My own nephew was assaulted by three illegals, left for dead only to still $8 out of his pocket. When you have these kinds of examples, how can you not see what Donald Trump is saying,” Quiñonez said.
Because the candidates at the event are running this year – with elections in November – the national immigration rhetoric of the presidential races has less influence on their campaigning, Whitbeck said.
“Nobody is going to be walking around … John Guevara’s district talking about building a wall around Fairfax County,” Whitbeck said. “That’s a national issue Donald Trump talks about that you would be foolish to campaign on an issue that doesn’t apply to your local district. You got to campaign on what applies to your district.”
Jobs and the economy always involve immigrant labor, and questions will come up in especially heavy Hispanic districts and “you got to be prepared to answer those questions,” he said.
The party's focus, however, is on finding common denominators and building trust by being in the community. The party “that doesn’t go away, doesn’t show up every four years, five months before an election,” Priebus said. A party that isn't penetrating black and Hispanic communities is setting itself up for failure and remaining a party that only wins in midterms and loses in presidential races, he said.
“We are going to have a Republican Party that tries to saturate Hispanic communities and gets in the communities and talks about the fact that we’re the party that believes you ought to look in a phone book at all the schools that are in your community and you ought to choose which schools you want to send your son or daughter to,” he said.
“We’re the party that says you ought to free up (Small Business Administration) loans and free up capital for these small business owners that were in this restaurant,” he said. “If we’re not in the community explaining these things, then no one is going to find out about it.”