Newt Gingrich’s immigration talk isn’t just a nice gotcha moment for his opponents. It’s part of a larger effort to reach out to Hispanic voters that’s a key tenet of his campaign.
Last week, TPM has learned, Gingrich held a conference call with prominent Hispanics. Leaders from all 50 states were invited. It was just the latest in his long push to connect with the Hispanic community that has been a highlight of Gingrich’s race so far.
The effort doesn’t seem to be slowing down now that Gingrich is the frontrunner. Among those on the call was U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Javier Palomarez. He said the call was about economic issues, and was well received by his organization.
“I was glad that Speaker Gingrich reached out to me and spoke with our organization about his economic plans,” Palomarez said.
The Hispanic Chamber “wants to work with and hear from all of the Presidential candidates on their plans to create jobs and prosperity,” Palomarez said.
Gingrich’s National Hispanic Inclusion Director, Sylvia Garcia, told TPM that outreach to Hispanic leaders — which she said Gingrich has been doing for years — gives Gingrich an advantage over his rivals; it could be something that separates him from Mitt Romney as the campaign moves forward.
“His advantage is that this dialogue with Latinos began well before campaigning became an issue,” she said in an email conversation Wednesday. “He understands that as ALL other Americans, Latinos are natural conservatives and making sure they receive the correct message has always been one of his goals.”
Team Gingrich has been talking this way for a while, and Gingrich has been putting his money where his mouth is for years. As Benjy Sarlin reported back in 2009, Gingrich was using social networking and TV appearances on Spanish language TV to ingratiate himself with the Hispanic community and attempt to grow the GOP base there. Republicans have long felt they have a real chance to grab big swaths of the Latino vote, which they say is naturally more socially conservative and open to Republican ideas.
Gingrich continued the outreach early into his campaign. As Time’s Michael Scherer reported in May, Gingrich gave one of his first post-campaign announcement interviews to Univision, where he took questions on immigration and previewed the path to legal status for the millions of illegal immigrants already in the US that’s led to attacks from his Republican rivals.
Garcia told TPM that all the work in the Hispanic community is paying off.
“The feedback was extremely positive,” she said of last week’s phone call, which featured the candidate. “These leaders know that Speaker Gingrich is sincerely concerned with those issues important to the Latino community… Beginning with the economy and unemployment.”
Although the conventional wisdom is says Gingrich’s more-pro Hispanic stance toward illegal immigration could be a liability, it’s possible that the former House Speaker is better position to tap into whatever Hispanic vote is up for grabs in the GOP than Romney, which could give him added boost.
Update: The Romney campaign noted they have two full-time Hispanic outreach staffers and that Romney spoke to a Hispanic audience on Sept. 2. The campaign said they’ve been in touch with the Hispanic Chamber about their request to talk to Romney.