Corporate Media's Go-To 'Expert' on Latino Evangelicals Actually a Right-Wing Political Operative
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Indeed, Rodriguez is part of historic efforts by the Christian Right and the Republican Party to peel off some Latino and African-American voters, and to inoculate other recent immigrants against their traditional affinity for the Democratic Party. Aaron Manaigo, a political operative working for Harry Jackson, told a breakout session at the 2012 Values Voters Summit, sponsored by Christian Right groups like the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C. in September, that they were seeking “some demographic advantage.” To this end, they have staged events in swing states and those with marriage initiatives on the ballot. One notable event in New Mexico featured Rodriguez, Republican Lt. Governor John Sanchez and Fr. Frank Pavone, head of the militant anti-abortion organization Priests for Life. Jackson and Manaigo’s session at Values Voters was titled: “Vertical Vote Campaign for Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberties.”
Despite Rodriguez’s apparent embrace of Mitt Romney's candidacy, his intentions have been complicated and contradictory over the years. For example, in 2008 he described Mark Gonzales, a Texas pastor and NHCLC's longtime Vice President for Government Affairs as “a die-hard Republican operative” who “represents a walking billboard for the Hispanic versions of Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, Council on National Policy and Christian Coalition.” He claimed that Gonzales was disappointed with the GOP's approach to immigration issues and that therefore his main objective was to register voters in states with high concentrations of Latino voters, regardless of party affiliation “as long they vote and demonstrate that Latino Christians represent a deliverable constituency.” This might sound sensibly nonpartisan under the circumstances -- except for the fact that, at the time, Gonzales was serving as chairman of the Hispanic advisory council for John McCain's presidential campaign.
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, Rodriguez’s Republican stock soared when he gave the benediction to close the first day of the Republican National Convention in Tampa in August 2012. His prayer immediately followed a speech by Ann Romney and the keynote address by Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey. But, since then, he has maintained a nuanced critical distance. “For Republicans, the bridge to the Hispanic promised land is the Hispanic faith voter, and that bridge is now broken,” Rodriguez declared in September. “Republicans look and talk like us, but we're not sure they want us.”
Rodriguez and Fresh Faith Voters
But the Christian Right does want the Latino vote, and its targeted approach to mobilize a specific subset of religiously informed Latino voters is aimed for the long run. An expanding conservative evangelical electorate, including a growing Latino demographic, could be decisive in some parts of the country. Rodriguez and the NHCLC are at the center of that outreach through a partnership with the conservative Champion the Vote which aims to build the Christian Right’s capacity to win a theocratic power bloc in the American electorate.
As Rodriguez told Pat Robertson in an interview on CBN, “The Hispanic electorate may be the salvation of the conservative movement and the Christian Church in America.” Champion the Vote is a project of United in Purpose (UIP), an organization of conservative Christian Silicon Valley entrepreneurs that the Los Angeles Times reports is spending millions of dollars, and using advanced data mining techniques to identify unregistered conservative Roman Catholics and conservative evangelicals. They aim to widen the Christian Right electorate this year by registering and turning out five million new voters, primarily in states where, in the 2008 presidential contest, the margin of difference was less than the number of unregistered conservative Christians. To get there, they are seeking to recruit 100,000 “champions” to follow-up once UIP has identified the right kind of unregistered Christians.