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Promoting An Ethnic Wedge Issue

A Republican Latino group with ties to the Bush Administration is airing ads alleging that Obama puts African Americans before Latinos and Africa before Latin America.

The 527 group, Latinos For Reform, is new this month and now it's running a Spanish-language radio ad in Pennsylvania and Colorado and a TV version in New Mexico. The ad translates, in part, as:

Barack Obama a friend of the Latino community? The record demonstrates the opposite. Did you know that after the 2000 census that showed a tremendous growth of Latinos in Chicago, Obama told reporters in Chicago that while everyone agrees that the Hispanic population has grown, they cannot expand by taking power from the African-American community. You heard right...but there's more. Did you know that Obama has never hired a Latino to a senior position in his office throughout his legislative career? Did you know that Obama has opposed trade with Mexico, Central America and Colombia, yet supports free trade with Africa?

The chairman of Latinos For Reform is Robert Deposada, who has served in the leadership of the Hispanic Business Roundtable and The Latino Coalition, and was formerly director of Hispanic affairs for the Republican National Committee. In 2001, President Bush appointed Deposada to a commission to advance the administration's plan for privatizing Social Security.

Deposada tells us that with Obama, "You start seeing that traditional relationship that you have between African-American elected officials and Latino elected officials. I think it's been a tension."

The treasurer of Latinos For Reform is high-powered Republican lobbyist Juan Carlos Benitez, whose firm brags that he "has exceptionally close ties to the White House." Benitez was a Pioneer — he raised more than $100,000 for the 2004 re-election campaign — and President Bush named him special counsel for immigration-related unfair employment practices. Benitez also raised between $50,000 and $100,000 this election cycle for McCain.

Deposada says he and other conservative Latinos are disappointed that McCain hasn't put more effort into courting the Latino vote.

"We were honestly so ridiculously frustrated," he says. "There's never been a Republican candidate with a better track record with the Latino community. Our big concern is that I can just picture the Republican Party after the election saying, 'If we couldn't get the Hispanic vote with John McCain, who is so pro-Hispanic, then why bother?'"