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RI GOP still a tough draw for Latinos

August 2, 2010

RI GOP chairman Giovanni Cicione was happy to recently report that Sandy Riojas, formerly a Democratic activist, had become a registered Republican. But even in this year of anti-incumbent sentiment, both Cicione and Riojas concede that attracting Latino support remains a sharp challenge for local Republicans.

Riojas has lived in Rhode Island since 1984. She supported Hillary Clinton in 2008, and later phone-banked for Barack Obama. Riojas says she was more open-minded about joining the GOP since she grew up in south Texas, in a Mexican-American family of mixed political persuasions. Hearing younger relatives express concern about the impact of federal debt on future generations, she says, pushed her over the partisan line.

Nonetheless, “It was hard, it was really hard getting people out there,” when Riojas tried attracting Latino friends for a July 24 meet and greet with some leading Republican candidates.

Riojas agrees with Cicione’s view that the RI GOP’s outreach to Latinos and other minority groups is handicapped by a lack of resources. Also, she says, “This is a blue state. It’s easy to be a Republican over there [in Texas]. Here, it’s just so different.”

Asked about local GOP efforts to cultivate Latinos and other minorities, Cicione told me didn’t have a good answer.  He says he speaks to groups like the NAACP to build support, and sees heightened minority support for Republicans as part of the best hope for changing Rhode Island.

Riojas thinks the outlook might be better 10 years down the road.

For now, though, these lines from a 2003 story I wrote about the rise of Rhode Island’s contemporary Latino political movement still sound familiar:

A popular East Providence politician once told Dan Garza that being a Republican in Rhode Island is like trying to pee up a rope. And as Garza knows, trying to cultivate Latino Republicans is even more difficult. Even with the chairman’s steady work and articulate manner, the Rhode Island chapter of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly has only about five members.

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