CLEARWATER BEACH, Fla. — Former Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato was clearly enjoying himself Tuesday as he addressed the New York delegation to the Republican National Convention, telling old campaign stories and recalling days when New York Republicans constituted a powerful force.
But the three-term former senator assumed a much more serious tone when he later told reporters the New York GOP must reach out to Hispanics and immigrants in order to once again become viable statewide.
"We need to make a concerted effort to get the biggest growing bloc participating in politics — the Hispanic community," he said. "I look at that community as a very hard working, family oriented community that Republicans should be appealing to."
D'Amato, 75, compared Hispanics to the Italian immigrants of his grandparents' generation who found a home in the GOP, and said today's party leaders should make the same outreach efforts.
Now head of a major lobbying firm called Park Strategies, D'Amato gave credit to President Obama for making it easier for the children of illegal immigrants to remain in the country when he was asked about policy friendly to Hispanics.
But he also said the president should be faulted for maintaining troops in places like Afghanistan when they could be guarding U.S. borders against illegal immigrants. D'Amato said the party faces tough times unless it broadens its appeal, acknowledging that statewide victories are not as attainable as in his day, when Democrats enjoyed an enrollment advantage of only about 500,000 compared to 3 million today.
"Unless you have a well funded campaign or a badly flawed Democrat, it's awfully difficult," he said. "Make no mistake about it, it's a very difficult task."
D'Amato talks about the New York Republican party's strengths and weaknesses in this video:
— Robert J. McCarthy