Former head of Hispanic outreach for Florida Republicans jumps ship

May 15, 2013 at 2:02 AM

ORLANDO, Fla., May 15 (UPI) -- Republicans' efforts to woo Hispanic voters hit a bump in the road in Florida when a former GOP director of Hispanic outreach said he has turned Democrat.

For Pablo Pantoja, who announced his change of parties Monday, the Republican party hasn't gotten beyond paying lip service to Latinos when it comes to immigration, the Orlando Sentinel reported. On Tuesday, he cited a Heritage Foundation report that suggested immigration would cost the United States as much as $6 trillion in the future.

After President Obama won the lion's share of the Hispanic vote last September, many Republican leaders said the party needed to change its stance on immigration. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a Cuban-American, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whose wife was born in Mexico, were seen as potential standard-bearers.

But Pantoja, a 33-year-old native of Puerto Rico who headed the state party's Hispanic outreach for most of last year, said he has been disappointed the Republican failure to really engage on immigration.

The response to the Heritage Foundation report and to the news that Jason Richwine, who advised on it, had written in his doctoral thesis that Hispanics are less intelligent than whites, on average, was tepid, Pantoja said.

"There was a bland response," he told the Sentinel. "I don't want to single out specifics, but overall, it was: 'Where's the indignation?'"

Pantoja worked on Sen. John McCain's 2008 GOP presidential campaign and said he was willing to "brush off" some anti-Hispanic comments for years because he preferred Republican ideas.

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