The job of Juan Hernandez is to win support for John McCain, particularly Latino votes. So it may seem odd that the campaign doesn't want its national director of Hispanic outreach to get any press. Repeated NEWSWEEK requests to interview Hernandez have been rebuffed or ignored. When a reporter suggested talking to Hernandez at a convention of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, where Hernandez was slated to appear June 28, his name was suddenly removed from the list of scheduled speakers. A NALEO spokesman, Eric Wagner, says someone from the McCain campaign called and asked to replace him, but didn't offer an explanation. (A McCain aide, who refused to be quoted discussing internal campaign strategy, later told NEWSWEEK that the campaign had never signed off on Hernandez as a speaker.)
Here's one possible reason: Hernandez is toxic to many conservatives. "He represents the opposite of everything conservative Republicans stand for," says a GOP strategist who didn't want to be quoted by name on a sensitive topic. The blond Mexican-American (with dual citizenship) was a senior official in the government of Mexican President Vicente Fox from 2000 to 2002. His main responsibility at that time was to advocate for undocumented Mexican immigrants in America--to help them get access to education and health services, and then citizenship. In 2006, Hernandez authored "The New American Pioneers: Why Are We Afraid of Mexican Immigrants?" Some conservatives have wanted McCain to deny Hernandez any role in the campaign. "Imagine a tree and people shaking it, trying to get him out," says the strategist. "Well, that tree went through a hurricane."
But one group's villain is another's hero. Hernandez has good ties to the Latino community, particularly church groups. McCain needs those votes, especially in swing states like Florida, New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada. "If the campaign shoves [Hernandez] to the side ... it would cause an enormous amount of trepidation," says the Rev. Sam Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. "He's the only real bridge the campaign has with us."