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Utah’s Latino candidate disparity illustrates parties’ race gap
Politics » House District 26 contest pits lone Hispanic GOP hopeful against Hispanic Dem.

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One evening, she met a woman who said stopping illegal immigration was her top issue and backed an enforcement-only approach.

Romero listened, gave her a flier, and moved on.

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"It’s OK," she said. "Even though we may not agree on everything, my door will always be open."

Paredes, a 35-year-old medical school student at the U., said that as a Republican candidate he wants to help communicate the GOP message to Latinos.

At an Amigos y Libros meeting at the Salt Lake City Library, he introduced himself — speaking in Spanish to the small book club reading "Los Santos Inocentes" by Miguel Delibes. They listened as he spoke about his top issue — education.

He said afterward that he would oppose any attempt to repeal the law granting in-state tuition for illegal immigrants and that he could be an effective voice within the GOP.

"You have a student who is a 4.0 and the only thing that’s missing is a Green Card?" Paredes asked. "Why would we not want them here?"

But Litvack said Paredes’ campaign of trying to change his party from within is a well-worn strategy.

"It’s the same tired effort made against me in six campaigns," he said, "that they’ll make change within the majority party. It doesn’t make any difference at all."

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Conflicting messages » Thad Hall, associate professor of political science at the University of Utah, said on the issue of immigration, Utah Republicans will point to efforts boasting a more compassionate approach on the issue, such as The Utah Compact.

He said that, coupled with the state’s offering of in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants and the Legislature’s attempt to pass a comprehensive raft of bills that included a controversial guest worker law set to take effect in July, could make the GOP look more attractive to Latinos in Utah.

But, he said, the national noise of self-deportation, fence-building and enforcement-only approaches can drown out local politics.

"The harsher stands seen nationally tend to push Latinos to the Democrats," he said. "You have conflicting messages at the national and state level and that can be a problem."

The most recent Latino Decisions tracking poll showed, in fact, a growing gap of support between President Barack Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney — 72 percent of Latinos for Obama and only 20 percent for Romney.

Those kinds of margins, Hall said, are dangerous and could impact future generations of Latino voters in Utah.

"I don’t think it’s too late, but it’s unclear to me if they (GOP hard-liners) represent the majority view in the party," Hall said. "That’s the kicker. The clear-headed ones who see a hard-line tactic as unattractive to Latinos could be the same ones voted out of office. Then, you will see a shift."

Thomas Wright, Utah State Republican chairman, said the party does have work to do.

"I think President Obama did a spectacular job of reaching out to that group and they appreciated it and responded with that support," Wright said. "But over the last four years, that gap continued to narrow. While he is a charismatic and great speaker, his values don’t necessarily align to their values. At the same time, we need to do a better job in getting our message out there."


Twitter: @davemontero

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