Activists Target Latino GOP Candidates Over Immigrant Family History

As more Latinos seek public office running as Republicans, their family backgrounds, particularly having to do with immigration, have come under increasing scrutiny by liberal Latino activists -- a scrutiny that Latino Democrats have not previously faced.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican and the nation's only Latina governor, recently found documents that suggested that her grandfather legally entered the country. Previous reports said her grandfather was an undocumented immigrant.

The governor directed her political organization to undertake the genealogical research after critics attempted to contrast her immigrant roots with her push to repeal a law allowing undocumented immigrants to get a driver's license. The governor's opponents pointed to her immigrant grandparents as an example of why New Mexico should welcome unauthorized immigrants and continue to allow them to get a driver's license.

Marco Rubio, Florida's GOP senator, also was accused of embellishing his family's immigrant story  in a controversial Washington Post article.The story challenged previous claims by Rubio that his parents came to the United States after Cuban leader Fidel Castro came to power in 1959. Rubio's family had received U.S. residency two years before the Communist strongman overtook the island nation, 90 miles away from Florida's coast. Rubio has adamantly denied the allegations.

Experts say it's a reaction to Latino Republicans' conservative views on immigration. But, if so, the tactic seem not to have much of an effect on voter attitudes. The controversy surrounding Rubio's family history had virtually zero effect on his approval ratings, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll.

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Brigham Young University history professor Ignácio García said most Latino voters tend to vote Democratic but Republicans are more successful at recruiting Latino candidates.

"The difference now is that these new Latino Republicans, like Martinez and Rubio, are better prepared and are being groomed as national figures," said Garcia. "Meanwhile, the Democrats are falling behind. They have no equivalent and they aren't giving Latinos the same opportunity."

Garcia said there's also a new factor — the millions of new independent Latino evangelicals who could be potential GOP voters. This population is new and unpredictable, he said.

Contains reporting from the Associated Press.

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