Congressional candidate Clint Didier is courting the Latino vote this fall.
A shift in his position on immigration from support for self-deportation in 2014 to now calling for a pathway to citizenship, as well as a militarized border, has garnered him the endorsement of a few prominent Latinos who supported rival Rep. Dan Newhouse two years ago.
Other Latinos remain wary, however, and the Newhouse campaign says they should be, given that Didier has spoken out against birthright citizenship and advocated for deporting people who don’t learn English on his weekly radio show hosted on the American Christian Network.
Observers credited Latino and liberal voters with pushing Newhouse ahead of Didier 51 percent to 49 percent in 2014.
More than a third of the 4th Congressional district’s 700,000 residents are Hispanic, according to the 2015 Census, and although voter participation is historically low among Latinos, their political influence is definitely growing in Central Washington, said Paul Apostolidis, a political science professor at Whitman College.
He said the local level changes, such as the voting rights case in Yakima that created district elections, are driving increased interest and participation in voting among Latinos.
And nationally, the rhetoric from Donald Trump appears to be turning away Latinos and may be spurring more Latinos to register and vote.
Many Latinos voted for Newhouse in 2014 because he pledged to support immigration reform, including an opportunity for undocumented immigrants to obtain some sort of legal status.
Shortly after taking office, Newhouse voted to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that allowed young undocumented immigrants to stay in the country. Newhouse says he voted against the program because it was unconstitutionally created by President Barack Obama’s executive action.
But not everyone sees it that way.
“Mr. Newhouse promised the Latino community that he would support DACA and then he went back to Washington, D.C., and voted against it. He lied to the Latino community to get our vote,” said David Cortinas, publisher of La Voz, the Hispanic newspaper in the Tri-Cities. “This year, we believe the Latinos are waking up and they are going to see that he lied to them.”
Newhouse said immigration reform continues to be one of his top priorities and he has been working with a bipartisan group of lawmakers on a proposal for the upcoming session.
“We also need a system to allow individuals to come into our country legally, work legally, and when the work is done, allow them to return to their homes,” he said in an interview with the Herald-Republic editorial board.”
And for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants already here, “I agree that we have to find a way to provide them a path to legal status,” Newhouse said. “Many of these people have been here a long time and are good, productive members of our community.”
Meanwhile, Didier has expanded his immigration stance to include a path to citizenship in addition to using the military to secure the border and “stop the flow” of immigrants.
“I want to emphasize, it’s moot unless we secure our borders, but yes, if there are people who have been here for 20 years, 30 years, they have broken the law ... so there’s gotta to be some form of retribution; it could be monetary, it could be community service, and then (they should be) getting in line, learning English, taking the test, and becoming a citizen.” Didier said in a recent interview.
That led La Voz to endorse Didier this year, Cortinas said. He added that he has faith Didier’s shift in position is the result of getting to know Latinos, including his new son-in-law, his family and the broader community, not a bid for votes.
“We found that Mr. Didier has come a long way,” Cortinas said. “Didier has seen the light, and he says that common sense immigration reform is what we need.”
Didier’s website claims the Latino Coalition of the Tri-Cities also endorsed him, but spokesman Leo Perales said the group was not endorsing either candidate for the 4th Congressional District.
“To be honest, we’re not going to be doing an endorsement because both of these candidates for the 4th have different approaches to immigration reform than our coalition,” Perales said.
Cortinas, a founding member of the coalition, said Didier was confused about the endorsement because while Cortinas and several other members do support Didier, other members want to give Newhouse a second chance.
A spokesman for the Newhouse campaign did not name any Latino organizations that had formally endorsed him this year.
“He’s met with many nonprofits, civic organizations and private individuals regarding issues facing the Latino community, and while many of these organizations do not endorse candidates, Dan has enjoyed the ability to work with them and looks forward to continuing to work with them in the 115th Congress,” campaign manager Sean O’Brien said in a statement.
In Yakima County, many Latino voters remain very wary of Didier, even if they were disappointed in Newhouse’s first term.
“In that race, some people just say they don’t know whether they are going to vote for anybody,” said Teadora Martinez-Chavez, a Democrat and former state Senate candidate who’s active in voter registration outreach.
“Most of the people I’ve spoken to are saying ‘no way’ to Didier,” she said. “Some Democrats think Newhouse is still better than Didier, but if Newhouse is not going to support immigration, do we want him there?”
This article has been updated to correct that Cortinas was referring to Didier's son-in-law, not stepson.
• Kate Prengaman can be reached at 509-577-7674 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on twitter @kprengaman