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Pennsylvanias conservative push for Latino voters

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(The Center Square) — As Pennsylvania’s Latino population grows, so too does its economic and political influence.

It’s an open question as to where their votes will go, and groups from the left and right alike want to bring them into the fold.

On Thursday, the center-right Libre Initiative launched its Pennsylvania chapter in Philadelphia, advocating for the removal of barriers to opportunity and elevating the concerns of Latinos statewide.

“You can’t ignore the growth of the Latino community here in Pennsylvania and when it comes to policy,” Libre President Daniel Garza said. “We want to build an army of public policy advocates and mobilize them.”

The group describes itself as “empowering the Hispanic community to reach its full potential by promoting and fighting for freedom-oriented solutions” and is closely aligned with Americans For Prosperity, an influential force in right-wing politics.

Garza emphasized that their goal is not to push Latinos into the voting booth for one party, but to focus on issues important to the demographic that politicians ignore.

“One of the misconceptions is that Latinos are wired left,” he said. “Latinos have to be persuaded; they’re tired of Latino organizations or party people imposing an agenda on them. They have their own agenda, they have their own priorities.”

He pointed to fixing barriers to opportunity like getting a driver’s license or learning English; starting a business or dealing with citizenship issues; and education. Removing those obstacles brings about political change, he said.

“If you expand somebody’s ability to take advantage of economic opportunity, then they become champions of the free market,” Garza said. “Across the country, you cannot ignore the Latino voice when it comes to policy fights. We aim to flex our muscle.”

Pennsylvania is set to be a battleground, and Latinos could be especially important. More than 600,000 of them are eligible to vote in the commonwealth, which Biden won in 2020 by less than 100,000 votes.

Pennsylvania’s growing Latino Belt, from the northeast to the Lehigh Valley, isn’t as strong of a base for Democrats as it was in the past. A rightward shift on economics and cultural values has been evident since 2016.

Economic pressures in recent years have given Republicans an opening.

“Immigration is important for Hispanics, but that’s not the only issue,” said Mayra Flores, a former Republican U.S. Congresswoman from Texas who lost her seat in 2022 after her district was redrawn, but is running again in 2024. “It’s important that people understand the economy is also important for us. We’re very hard-working and, unfortunately, under this administration we’re hurting tremendously.”

Flores was the keynote speaker at Libre’s kick-off event, and she reminded the audience that their loyalty should be to God and their values, not a political party.

But courting those voters means Republicans must change.

“If the Republican Party here in Philadelphia wants to have a future, they have to invest in the Hispanic community — because the Hispanic community is the future of the Republican Party,” Flores said. “If they don’t, there will be no Republican Party.”

Echoing Flores, Garza argued that Democrats and Republicans will pay an electoral price if they ignore the concerns of Latinos.

In his speech before Flores’ keynote, Garza argued two visions compete in American political life: one a paradigm of empowerment, a bottom-up approach based on trade that rewards risk-taking and serving each other. The other is a paradigm of power, top-down and elite-led, benefitting the well-connected.

“It is freedom that drives progress,” he said. “It’s on us to work with our community, to lend a hand; we must develop a better way to help those struggling in poverty and who are facing these barriers.”

As groups like Libre get more active in Pennsylvania, Joe Biden’s re-election campaign is launching a “Latinos con Biden-Harris” push.

State Democrats argue that Biden represents a better America, while Trump is closer to the policies that pushed Latino immigrants to leave their home countries.

The Biden campaign sees Pennsylvania as a crucial part of its “blue wall,” along with Michigan and Wisconsin, to pull off a re-election.