RAND PAUL APPEALS TO LATINOS IN BATTLEGROUND NEVADA Republican presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul at the Libre Initiative’s event in Las Vegas / AP By Israel Ortega September 18, 2015

U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Thursday denounced the harsh tone some of his fellow Republican presidential candidates have taken toward Hispanics and immigrants.

“I think it’s a mistake to demonize groups of people to score cheap political points. It disgusts me, and it should disgust every American,” Paul told a predominantly young and Latino audience at the College of Southern Nevada in Las Vegas.

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Among the GOP primary contenders, real estate mogul Donald Trump has made a point of singling out Hispanics, and has said he would deport millions of illegal immigrants if he’s elected.

Paul was there to headline the first of a series of policy forums sponsored by the Libre Initiative, a national organization taking the message of economic freedom and empowerment to Hispanics and Latinos.

Paul’s appearance following a contentious Republican debate the night before at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley gave the senator an opportunity to showcase his limited Spanish. The College of Southern Nevada’s student population is mainly Hispanic and from low-income backgrounds.

In a state that boasts one of the highest percentage of eligible Hispanic and undecided voters, Nevada could be among the handful of states that will likely decide the outcome of next year’s presidential election.

“At some point, elections are not about politics or policy; they are about math,” writes John Ralston, a journalist who has covered Nevada politics for nearly 25 years. “He or she who gets the most votes wins, and Hispanics arguably are the most potent rising bloc in both Nevada and American politics.”

CPNF_p_VEAAbzXlPaul speaks on stage with the executive director of the Libre Initiative, Daniel Garza. | Photo: Libre Initiative
According to Ralston, Sandoval lost the Hispanic vote in his first bid for the Governor’s office in 2010 by a wide margin, but did much better with Hispanic voters when he ran for reelection in 2014 – but only after he embraced immigration reform.

In Paul’s remarks to the Libre Initiative audience, he spoke openly about his support for legal immigration and the need to welcome those that are looking to contribute to the country. Paul’s softer tone was an effort to set himself apart from other candidates, including Trump and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.), who have been critical of legal and illegal immigration.

Although current public opinion polls show that immigration is not the most important issue for the Hispanic electorate, there is considerable evidence that the harsh tone on immigration by certain Republican hopefuls is turning off Hispanic voters.

Apart from immigration, Paul devoted considerable time to the topic of education and the lack of opportunity to attend high quality schools. He cited Ronald Reagan’s suggestion that the federal government consider scrapping the U.S. Department of Education and return policymaking authority to state and local governments — and especially parents and students, who should have the right to “choose what school to attend.”

Paul’s reform message dovetails with a recent poll by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, which found nearly seven in 10 Hispanics support school vouchers, while six in 10 favor public charter schools.

A changing electorate is re-writing the rules of politics and winning elections. Paul seems to understand this, but the bigger question is whether the Republican Party and the conservative movement realizes how the landscape is changing as they look to re-take the White House next fall.

Israel Ortega is a Senior Writer for Opportunity Lives. You can follow him on Twitter @IzzyOrtega.