A group of Hispanic conservatives is ramping up an aggressive campaign to attract Hispanic voters as part of an ongoing effort on the right to bring more minorities into the fold.
This push by the LIBRE Initiative includes a seven-figure ad buy against Democratic lawmakers who supported the Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare, and the opening of field offices in as many as a dozen states with large Hispanic populations. And in a novel move, the group is even providing social services to Hispanic communities while it sells its message.
LIBRE is not a new group — it was founded in 2011 and conducted similar programs on a smaller scale around last year’s presidential elections — but it is currently implementing a wide-ranging outreach initiative that began late last year. The organization has funding ties to Charles and David Koch’s donor network and is led by Daniel Garza, a former White House aide to President George W. Bush. Garza sees 2014 as an opportunity for conservatives to gain a foothold among Hispanics, which voted overwhelmingly for a President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.
The Republican Party, Garza said, still has much to learn to reach the increasingly critical demographic.
The group is supplementing its policy work by offering a menu of social services, an unusual move for a political group of its kind. During tax season last year, for example, LIBRE provided free tax-preparing services in cooperating with H&R Block. It is offering English classes and health and wellness checkups year-round. In 2014, the group is launching a free GED course, an initiative Garza holds dear. As the child of Mexican-American farmworkers, Garza worked with his parents and moved constantly to follow the crop seasons. He never graduated from high school, but he received his GED and spent two years in college before starting a career in politics.
“I was a farmworker and because I missed half of the school year working in the fields, I wasn’t able to finish high school,” Garza told Yahoo News. “The GED was what got me back on track. There are huge percentages of Hispanics who don’t have a high school diploma. We want to make a difference in our communities, and just saying it isn’t enough. You have to act.”
On policy issues, LIBRE espouses the typical range of conservative ideas: lower taxes, an overhaul of the welfare system, school choice and restricting regulation. On immigration, the group supports comprehensive immigration reform, including a pathway to legalization for immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. (In 2012, the group spent nearly $1 million promoting immigration reform, Garza said.)
But most recently, no issue has taken more of LIBRE’s resources than opposing Obama’s health care overhaul. In recent months, Garza and LIBRE staff have penned multiple anti-Obamacare op-eds that have appeared in USA Today, the Tampa Tribune, Fox News Latino and Forbes.
On Thursday, LIBRE launched a media broadside against Rep. Pete Gallego, the second in a series of ads against the Texas Democrat. The ad criticizes Gallego for his support of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, and LIBRE says it's spending about half a million dollars for a two-week run in his district on network TV. The push is part of a broader ad campaign aimed at Democrats in Hispanic-heavy districts, particularly Gallego and Florida Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia. LIBRE has previously spent about $700,000 on issue ads targeting the two lawmakers in both English and Spanish, and it plans to spend more closer to the November midterm election.
“These are two vulnerable candidates, and we want to send a clear message that if you want to support a policy that will hurt the Hispanic community, we’re going to come after you,” Garza told Yahoo News.
LIBRE is also coordinating a political ground game that dispatches volunteers to conduct door-to-door outreach, canvass on issues and make calls to Hispanic voters in support of conservative causes. The group also hosts policy forums around issues that affect Hispanics, and members regularly turn up at Hispanic community events to spread their message and gather email address, phone numbers and voter data.
The launch of the political ads in Texas and Florida come alongside the release of a second, softer campaign called "Share the Dream,” a video series that tells personal stories of Hispanic success in the United States.
The organization is part of a sprawling network of advocacy groups coordinated in part by the Koch brothers, who support a variety of philanthropic and political causes. Through the vast web of conservative and libertarian donor programs, which received a thorough examination recently by the Washington Post and the Center for Responsive Politics, LIBRE has received $3.8 million in funding from the Koch-affiliated Freedom Partners and TC4 Trust, which provide grants to free-market nonprofit groups. LIBRE’s Arlington, Va., headquarters also shares a floor in the same office building as Freedom Partners.
LIBRE's staff is comprised of veteran conservative Hispanic operatives, including National Strategic Director Jose Mallea, formerly the campaign manager for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio; Policy Director Jorge Lima, once an adviser to former Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuno; and Chief of Staff Andeliz Castillo, who led outreach to Hispanic media for the Republican National Committee during the 2008 presidential election. The 35-member staff is spread out among eight states, with plans to expand to a dozen by year’s end. LIBRE has brought on Rachel Campos-Duffy, a writer and wife of Wisconsin Republican Rep. Sean Duffy, who both made their public debut in the 1990s as a characters on MTV's "The Real World.”
Between offering social services and Hispanic-focused policy outreach, LIBRE aims to serve as a model for other minority-outreach groups and the Republican Party, which have struggled to sustain a foothold in minority communities.
Republicans, Garza said, have failed to sustain support from Hispanic voters and despite recent efforts, are still slow to engage.
“Clearly their recent outreach and engagement efforts have not been effective,” Garza said. “That’s not to say they haven’t been effective in the past. Regrettably, Republicans — the conservative movement almost entirely — has ceded minority communities to the left. I don’t know why. Maybe they feel that inevitably, Hispanics are Republican and they just don’t know it. But guess what? They’re not Republican and yes, they know it.”
Since 1980, the level of support for Republicans has ebbed and flowed for Republican presidential candidates, although not one GOP contender during that time has received a majority of the Hispanic vote. In 2012, 71 percent of Hispanic voters supported Obama, while just 27 percent voted for Republican nominee Mitt Romney. In 2004, Bush received the most support with 40 percent, according to Pew Research's Hispanic Trends Project. With such close margins in modern presidential contests, that support could swing a presidential election. Republicans think they can replicate Bush’s success with a more sustained and targeted effort.
The challenge, Garza said, is showing people how policies have an impact on their lives, while not demonizing certain groups. Anti-Hispanic rhetoric from some Republicans during recent immigration debates, Garza conceded, ultimately set back their efforts.
“We’re not going to wait,” Garza said of the Republican Party. “Hopefully they can get their act together.”