USA Today By Martha T. Moore March 15, 2013
During a mock debate between Daily Caller editor Tucker Carlson and Democratic pundit Paul Begala, played out on the stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference, each man was asked to free associate from"Hispanic Americans."
"Still winnable," Carlson answered.
"Democrats," Begala said."And gracias.''
Nobody was laughing at CPAC about the failure of Republicans to win Hispanic votes. Speakers at the conservative gathering said repeatedly that demographics will doom Republicans unless the party can find a way to appeal to Hispanic voters — and changing immigration policy is a necessary first step.
At the CPAC panel — the first on the topic — all the speakers favored immigration changes and supported ways for illegal immigrants to achieve legal status, largely through temporary worker visas.
"You can be conservative and be for immigration reform,'' said Jennifer Korn of the American Action Network. A guest-worker program "helps our business, it helps our economy, and it is something big labor is against.''
A bipartisan Senate proposal for immigration changes creates a path to citizenship for many of the 11 million illegal immigrants living in the USA, changes the legal immigration system to give more low- and high-skilled workers access to visas, creates a system so employers can easily check the immigration status of prospective workers and further secures the nation's borders.
Rep. Raúl Labrador, R-Idaho, called immigration policy "a golden opportunity" for Republicans, but cautioned that "Republicans will not support any immigration reform without a vibrant guest-worker program.''
Korn and Daniel Garza of the LibreInitiative, a conservative advocacy group, said they were somewhat hopeful thatan immigration overhaul would get through Congress — especially, Korn said,because Republican governors including New Mexico's Susanna Martinez and Arizona's Jan Brewer have come out in favor of an overhaul. An immigration bill failed in 2007.
Regardless of policy outcomes, Republicans must change their rhetoric about immigration, said Whit Ayres, a GOP pollster who has worked for Sen. Marco Rubio.
"The idea that we can use harsh tones against the undocumented without affecting the way Americans see us is just delusional," he said.
The immigration discussion drew a few heckles from the crowd and some harsh response on Twitter. Mark Krikorian, the head of the Center for Immigration Studies, which opposes immigration, said the panel is "flacking for the Democrats' amnesty plan.''
But voter math means Republicans have to find a way to appeal to Hispanic voters, and Asian voters as well, said Ron Nehring, former California Republican Party chairman.
"We will not win another statewide election in California until we solve this problem,'' he told a panel discussion on choosing primary candidates. "I don't want to hear us talk about putting the military on the border or diseases coming across the border …Our messaging needs to go into the trash can and be reinvented.''