AILSA CHANG, HOST:
President Trump is campaigning here tonight. Arizona is a state where the GOP dominates politics right now. Both U.S. senators, the governor, most state lawmakers - they're all Republican. But that could change because waves of Latinos will become eligible to vote in the coming years, and they tend to vote Democratic, which means Arizona could flip from red to blue unless the Republican Party can win over the growing number of Latino voters in this state. And to get a sense of that challenge, I traveled to a town just west of Phoenix called Tolleson. It's about 80 percent Latino.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in Spanish).
CHANG: I'm in a restaurant serving tortas ahogadas and tacos. And I bump into a guy who could give the Republicans some hope.
RAMON BARON: The way we handle our home, especially in Hispanic communities, is the way Trump wants to run the U.S.
CHANG: Ramon Baron owns a small business repairing floors. He's a registered Republican, and he says he appreciates the values Trump stands for.
BARON: Security, order, you know? You need a certain order in your home. You know, the issues that came with the wall - you know, building a wall...
CHANG: You think that's a good idea.
BARON: It is a good idea because I just installed not even two weeks ago a security door on my door. I already have a door, but I put a better door.
CHANG: You put your own wall...
BARON: Yeah, and my son - he's 14 years old. And it's funny that he told me, somehow that door makes me feel safer. It made me think, you know, that, you know, it does make sense. More metal there keeps the worst people out, you know?
CHANG: But step outside, and within seconds, you'll run into people who vehemently disagree with Baron like Abel Hernandez, a truck driver who says immigration is the deal breaker, the reason most Latinos will never vote Republican.
ABEL HERNANDEZ: You heard the news. They're coming out with all these laws that make it more difficult for people from any country in the world to legalize their status. You've seen the kids being separated from the families at the border. I think all that reflects pretty bad on the Republican Party, if you ask me. I mean, who's ordering all that - you know, Trump and his agenda.
CHANG: But there is a reason Hernandez's view may not be worrying Republicans right now.
JOSEPH GARCIA: Republicans are banking on two things.
CHANG: Joseph Garcia heads the Latino Public Policy Center at Arizona State University.
GARCIA: They're banking on that there's enough white voters to still win the election today, and they're banking that there's going to be short memory for Latino voters tomorrow.
CHANG: But Garcia says data don't lie. Latinos will turn Arizona majority minority by 2030. And a whole lot of them are going to be U.S. citizens.
GARCIA: 2018 could be the last election that Republicans can win without also winning the Latino vote.
CHANG: So the question for Republicans is, how will they persuade those Latino voters to join their team?
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Hey, captain.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Captain.
CHANG: I'm at a baseball diamond in a small park in northern Phoenix in the district of State Representative Tony Rivero.
Have any of your friends or any other members of the Latino community given you a hard time for becoming a Republican?
TONY RIVERO: People have given me a hard time.
CHANG: Like what? What do they say to you?
RIVERO: Well, they'll say, how could you be a Republican when the Republicans don't support Hispanics, they don't support immigration reform?
CHANG: And his response to them is, take a look at all the other values of the Republican Party. They mesh perfectly with Latinos' - faith, the traditional family, small business, entrepreneurship. But it's not easy to get away from the party's position on immigration. And you can hear that when you walk around Rivero's district as he knocks on doors.
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RIVERO: I promise I'm only going to take two minutes of your time.
My name is Tony Rivero. I'm a state...
I'm a Republican running for re-election.
And I'm here answering any questions that you may have.
A lot of topics, including our budget, education. Immigration's a hot topic.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Yeah, that is a a hot topic.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: I feel that people focus too much on the people coming from Mexico.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: I think separating families isn't the way to do it.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: On paper, it doesn't look good. You know, on the news, it doesn't look good.
RIVERO: Well, I want to let you know I'm a Republican. I was born and raised in Peoria. My parents are from Mexico. And this is an issue where I go sideways with my party a little bit. And the reason for that is one, yes, we are a nation of laws, but I think this is a country of opportunity. And I know that our party has had somewhat of a bad label. But there are Republicans who are supportive of immigration reform. There are Republicans of smart and sensible immigration reform, and I'm one of them.
CHANG: I'm one of them. I ask Rivero if he thinks the Republican Party's position on immigration needs to change to attract more Latino voters.
RIVERO: I believe we need a realistic position on immigration, one that includes border security, one that legalizes people who are here who want to work hard, who are looking for opportunities. And we need to increase the number of visas of people who are coming here so we're not in this problem again and that it doesn't become a political football 10 years from now.
CHANG: This sounds like a different platform than the one the Trump administration's pushing.
RIVERO: I'm going to continue pushing my position, and that position is what I just mentioned.
CHANG: That independence from the White House is something you hear a lot from Arizona Republicans who are trying to appeal to the Latino electorate. Like, you hear it from Republican Governor Doug Ducey, who's running for re-election this year against a Latino candidate.
DOUG DUCEY: I'm not here to rationalize what's going on in Washington, D.C. I'm the chief executive of the state of Arizona. I can't be in control of what happens back east.
CHANG: Still, I ask Ducey if the Republican Party has a perception problem with Latino voters.
DUCEY: You won't hear me using the word Republican in the re-election. It's Doug...
CHANG: Why not?
DUCEY: ...Ducey on the ballot, and it's Doug Ducey's agenda.
CHANG: Ducey hired a Democrat to lead his outreach efforts to Latino voters, a guy named Mario Diaz who's a former campaign manager for several prominent Democrats, including Janet Napolitano and John Kerry. It was Diaz who approached Ducey for the job because Diaz thinks over the past four years, the governor's done a lot to move away from the divisive politics of Arizona's recent past.
MARIO DIAZ: The governor does not support certain language, doesn't support certain policies that the national Republican mood may call for. He is not suggesting on border security that we need to stop them, we need to keep them out, we need to build a wall. Not once has he said that. Now, I cannot vouch for other Republicans. I am vouching for Doug Ducey.
CHANG: But under that logic, if Republicans want to appeal partywide to Latino voters, they will have to separate the party from the Trump administration's rhetoric. And there are plenty of Latino voters who don't trust them to do that like Abel Hernandez. Remember him, the truck driver who says immigration's the deal breaker for Hispanics? Here's the key, Hernandez says. His kids are going to feel the same way he does.
HERNANDEZ: They see what's going on. They see how they treat us. And I tell my kids, you got to vote. You got to vote. You got to register to vote. And they said, Dad, we're ready to go. We're there. All right.
CHANG: In other words, Hernandez says, the Republican Party's fate may already be sealed for generations to come. And as a sign of just how hard it is for Arizona Republicans to separate themselves from the broader party, Governor Ducey will be appearing onstage at a campaign rally in Phoenix tonight with President Trump. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.