POLITICS

Kaine Warns Of GOP Troubles With Hispanics After Sotomayor Vote

08/28/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine suggested on Tuesday that opposition from Republican senators to Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor -- along with the Republican National Committee's failure to attend a major Latino-issue forum -- will seriously hurt the party with Hispanic voters.

"I find it puzzling that a group with the great credentials of the Council of La Raza would invite both parties to send their chairmen and that the RNC didn't send their chair," Kaine told the Huffington Post in a brief phone interview. "They could have had somebody else here. And with the vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee, with the exception of Senator Graham, every Republican voting against Judge Sotomayor, I just don't get that as well."

The Virginia governor's comments were part of an emerging line of attack from Democratic operatives, casting the Republican Party as insensitive to the issues that drive Hispanic voters. On Tuesday, Kaine spoke at the annual conference of the National Council of La Raza, the largest national Latino civil rights and advocacy organization in the country. While he was sprinkling in a bit of Spanish into his remarks, his counterpart Michael Steele was far away.

The RNC Chairman, his staff explained, was at the committee's summer meeting, which started this week in California.

"We certainly did make many efforts on behalf of the RNC to get a surrogate there but we were unable to do so," explained Gail Gitcho, Steele's press secretary "The RNC remains committed to growing and expanding its Latino coalition."

Gitcho insisted that the RNC couldn't get a Republican governor to fill in for Steele in time. Officials at La Raza, however, were not so understanding, telling The Plum Line's Greg Sargent: "The Republican Party not being here may demonstrate a lack of commitment to our community."

Certainly, the GOP's already-struggling Hispanic outreach wasn't helped by the fact that on Tuesday, six of the seven Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted against Sotomayor -- two of whom (Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Orin Hatch of Utah) had never voted against a Supreme Court nominee in their entire careers. The one Republican senator in support, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, was all but pleading with his GOP colleagues to consider the electoral ramifications of their vote as he cast his.

"We are 200 and something years old as a nation," Graham said. "This is the first Latino woman in the history of the United States to be selected for the Supreme Court. Now that is a big deal. I would not have chosen her, but I understand why President Obama did."

It doesn't get much easier for the GOP's efforts to woo Latino voters into their tent. One of the emerging subtexts to the current health care debate remains how the Hispanic community will be impacted by reform. While the topic of covering illegal immigrants remains a thorny one that neither party has shown the will to tackle, it remains obvious that Hispanics stand the most to gain from an overall increase in insurance coverage. A recent Gallup study revealed that more than 41 percent of Hispanic Americans are currently uninsured, far more than any other segment of the U.S. population. Passing legislation that lowers that number could have real ramifications in future elections.

"We don't think about it in those terms," said Kaine. "But you can do the political calculation and see it that way. The reason to be urgent and talk to La Raza about it is because, as you point out, the statistics of a lack of health care are so much larger in the Latino community than in others."

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