Thursday, May 24, 2018
Politics

Hispanic outreach leader for GOP in Florida joins Democratic Party

Presumably few Republican operatives have a better handle on the national Republican Party's efforts to court Hispanic voters than Pablo Pantoja, a native of Puerto Rico, and Florida State University alum appointed by the Republican National Committee to oversee Hispanic outreach in Florida last year. He also worked as a field director in the 2010 midterm elections.

Now — amid another debate over immigration reform and a widely touted Heritage Foundation study on immigrants touted by a fellow who used to argue that Hispanics have a lower IQ than non-Hispanic immigrants — Pantoja has decided he's more comfortable joining the Democratic Party.

Here's an excerpt from an email he sent Monday: "It doesn't take much to see the culture of intolerance surrounding the Republican Party today. I have wondered before about the seemingly harsh undertones about immigrants and others. Look no further; a well-known organization recently confirms the intolerance of that which seems different or strange to them. … We are not looking at an isolated incident of rhetoric or research. Others subscribe to motivating people to action by stating, 'In California, a majority of all Hispanic births are illegitimate. That's a lot of Democratic voters coming.' The discourse that moves the Republican Party is filled with this anti-immigrant movement and overall radicalization that is far removed from reality. … When the political discourse resorts to intolerance and hate, we all lose in what makes America great and the progress made in society."

Scott has a new challenger

Sarasota businesswoman Elizabeth Cuevas-Neunder has filed fundraising papers to seek the Republican Party nomination for governor against Rick Scott in 2014.

Cuevas-Neunder, 59, is president of the Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce of Florida.

Two other Republicans, Timothy Devine of Kissimmee and Joe Smith of Wellington, filed fundraising papers in recent months as well with the state Division of Elections in Tallahassee.

Push for immigration reform

The grass roots campaign to pass immigration reform is coming to Florida.

Florida New Majority, a liberal advocacy group, said it plans to set up phone banks next week in the districts of four Republicans: Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor, Tom Rooney of Okeechobee, Dennis Ross of Lakeland and Dan Webster of Winter Garden.

"We know we really need to amp up our efforts," said Kathy Bird-Caicedo, a campaign coordinator for the group. "People are looking very carefully at which way these representatives are going to go."

She said the effort would include targeting Hispanic voters who are likely to vote in 2014, when all House members seek re-election. Hispanics are the state's fastest-growing group.

All running against Pelosi

The Florida GOP is kicking off a fundraising campaign to protect incumbent Republican U.S. House members and Republican challengers, with the first fundraising pitches hitting mailboxes this week. The message is clear from the name of the campaign: the "Prevent Pelosi Project."

"Using Nancy Pelosi as the focal point for what's wrong in Washington, D.C., helped Mark Sanford overcome a lot of setbacks to win his race in South Carolina," said Florida Republican Party chairman Lenny Curry. "Down here in Florida, the chance to prevent Nancy Pelosi from returning to power will be just as successful in most of our 29 congressional districts."

Curry has tapped Jacksonville businessman and former Ambassador John Rood, chairman of Mitt Romney's Florida finance team in 2012, as the finance chairman of the Prevent Pelosi Project.

Alex Leary and Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.

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