POLITICS

Hillary Clinton prepares plan to fight Jeb Bush for Latino voters

As Hillary Clinton prepares for a possible announcement in April that she’s running for president, the former Secretary of State has held a series of meetings with Latino lawmakers and political operatives from around the country.

Clinton plans an all-out offensive against what could be a Republican presidential candidate who could do what few others – and certainly those of recent elections – could pull off: appeal to a large number of Latino voters.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has the kind of bragging rights regarding Latino issues that could keep Democratic strategists up at night.

He speaks fluent Spanish, has lived in Latin America and is well-versed in the culture, is married to a Latina, Columba Bush, is generally moderate on immigration as well as other issues about which many Latinos prefer a liberal approach.

So Clinton, who enjoyed mass Latino support when she ran in the Democratic primary in 2008, has been preparing to court this growing voting bloc early, and firmly, if she enters the presidential race, according to published reports.

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Harold Ickes, who worked on Clinton’s 2008 campaign, has expressed concern about Jeb Bush and his ability to siphon Latino votes that normally would not have been in play for a Republican. Ickes says Bush “has very strong credentials” with Latinos, the Wall Street Journal said.

Clinton has already asked some Latino lawmakers who have met with her to discuss what themes to focus on if she runs. And she is said to be planning to name as her national political director a Latina – Amanda Renteria, who ran unsuccessfully for a congressional seat in California and has worked as a chief of staff for Michigan U.S. senator Debbie Stabenow and was educated at Harvard and Stanford.

“We have had very, very long conversations about what the terrain will look like if she decides to run,” the Journal quoted Rep. Loretta Sanchez, a California Democrat, as saying. “Anybody who understands a national presidential campaign understands that the Latino vote is up for grabs.”

“And so if you’re going to disrespect us by thinking you can come in in the last two weeks and throw us a guacamole and tortilla chip party and say ‘Hola, amigo,’ and somehow we’re going to vote for you, it doesn’t happen that way these days.”

In the next few weeks, Clinton has long-scheduled appearances that will serve as a test of the public feeling about her following the scorching spotlight that has beat down on her over the controversy over how she used her personal e-mail account and server for official correspondence when she was Secretary of State.

Those appearances will be part of what may help Clinton decide whether she can still be a formidable presidential candidate, the Journal said.

Although Clinton has scored well in polls when it comes to Democratic voters, especially Latinos, she has had her awkward moments.

She created a firestorm among some immigrant advocacy groups when, in an interview last year with CNN, she said that the surge of Central American unaccompanied minors who arrived at U.S.-Mexico border should be deported.

“They should be sent back as soon as it can be determined who the responsible adults in their families are,” Clinton said, adding, “We have to send a clear message: Just because your child gets across the border, that doesn’t mean the child gets to stay... We don’t want to send a message that is contrary to our laws, or we'll encourage more children to make that dangerous journey.”

That led to several instances of heckling by immigrant activists at public events that featured Clinton.

For his part, Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican who also is a possible presidential candidate, has balked at the notion of Clinton as having a lock on the Oval Office.

"Multiple people can beat her," Rubio said in an interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt last year. "Hillary Clinton is not unbeatable." 

He said as secretary of state during the first four years of the Obama administration, there was little she accomplished on foreign policy matters.

"The reset with Russia has been a disaster, the Middle East is more unstable today than it's been in I don't know when – and that's saying a lot – our relationships in Latin America and democracy has deteriorated in Latin America,” Rubio said. “The Chinese are increasingly aggressive, our partners around the world view us as less reliable. Where is the one thing they've done successfully?"

Elizabeth Llorente is Senior Reporter for FoxNews.com, and can be reached at Elizabeth.Llorente@Foxnews.com. Follow her on Twitter @Liz_Llorente.