This story has been updated.
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz will both be making overtures to Hispanic voters Wednesday, speaking to national groups on issues that could increase their appeal within the rapidly growing voting bloc in the 2016 election.
What they will discuss — and how they will discuss it — could provide a preview for the different way in which the two candidates will reach out to Hispanics once the primary season is properly underway.
Fresh off a trip from Puerto Rico, Bush on Wednesday will speak the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference in Houston, a gathering of Hispanic evangelicals where “faith, education, immigration, [and] racial reconciliation” will likely feature prominently, according to an event description.
“He’s faith-literate, he knows how to approach faith groups and have a conversation. And he understands how to have a good dialogue,” said Rev. Luis Cortes, the president and CEO of Esperanza, a national network of Hispanic evangelicals.
On the other side of the country, in Washington, Cruz will sit down with the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce for a question-and-answer-sessions to talk about economic growth and small businesses.
That event comes after USHCC president Javier Palomarez last month expressed dissatisfaction with Cruz for skipping the group’s annual summit, which came on the heels of Cruz’s presidential announcement. The Q&A seems to be (at least in part) an attempt to soothe tensions between the two teams – while giving Cruz chance to make his business-heavy pitch to Latino voters.
“For the senator’s part, his messaging to the Hispanic community will be one of economic growth, prosperity, opportunities for your kids,” said Cruz spokesperson Rick Tyler.
On the stump, Cruz frequently discusses his father’s immigration from Cuba decades ago. But, notably, his event with the chamber will likely not emphasize immigration reform, which Cruz opposes so long as any such legislation gives undocumented immigrants legal status.
“[M]y understanding is that while immigration is an important issue, it’s not polling among the top issues they’re talking about. They really want to talk about economic growth and small business opportunity,” Tyler said.
Despite heavy criticism from conservatives opposed to “amnesty,” Bush has remained committed to supporting an immigration reform plan that would provide legal status to undocumented immigrants, subtly calling attention to it time and again. In Puerto Rico Tuesday, the former Florida governor showed off his Spanish-language skills and spoke sympathetically about his bi-cultural family and the “immigrant experience.”
“Trust me, I know the power of the immigrant experience because I live it each and every day. I know the immigrant experience because I married a beautiful girl from Mexico. My children are bicultural and bilingual,” Bush said, according to the New York Times. Bush’s wife, Columba, was born and raised in Mexico.
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, who leads the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, credits Bush’s rhetoric and work on immigration reform. Immigration “is the Jordan that Republicans must cross in order to step into the promised land of the electorate,” he said in an interview, using a biblical reference to the river the Israelites crossed into the Promised Land.
Rodriguez warned that in the coming year, as Republican presidential candidates talk about immigration reform, “The rhetoric throughout the course of the campaign needs to be very nuanced, very affirming of the Latino community.”
If Bush runs for president, Cortes said, Latinos will be eager to hear what he has to say about education reform and economic growth. But overhauling the nation’s immigration system remains a special, often emotional concern for Latinos.
“If you have a good message on jobs, education and immigration, I can’t see you losing the Hispanic vote,” Cortes said.