Republican drive for support in the burgeoning Hispanic-American voting bloc is causing grief for some top party leaders because the Hispanic supposedly leading the national drive has decided to further his personal aspirations and seek the party's 1980 presidential nomination.
Ben Fernandez, a 53-year-old Los Angeles economist and chairman of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly, has confounded party leaders by establishing a Presidential Candidate Committee to select one of five presidential candidate. Fernandez, himself by far the leading contender among the Hispanic hopefuls, according to the Republican National Committee staff, claims to have already raised $8,000 in cash and $800,000 in pledge to further the White House drive.
Fernandez said he believes his campaign will "help legitimize" the Hispanic role in the GOP. Hispanic-Americans are seen by the RNC as prime candidates for conversion to the Republican cause because so many have maintained their Catholicism and belief in a conserative, farmily-oriented structure. These beliefs frequently spill over into their political stands on such issues as abortion, pornography and communism.
Top party leaders both at the Republican National Committee and around the country see Fernandez's campaign as a dangerous diversion from less lofty goals of organizing Hispanics in the party and electing them to lesser local, state and federal offices.
"He is acting like an individual, like a gringo," said George Adams, chairman of the important California chapter of the Hispanic Assembly. "He's putting all our chips on a number that has no chance. He's wasting our resources which would be better spent electing congressmen, senators and mayors. He's acting like a comedian."
"I have to wonder if this presidential thing is to advance the cause of Hispanic-American Republicans or is to promote the cause of Ben Fernandez," said one high-ranking Republican National Committee official. "The question is whether we should have them rallying around congressional candidates rather than organizing them around a political organizer like Ben."
Fernandez is a longtime Republican political activist with close political connections to supporters of former President Richard Nixon. In 1972 Fernandez led the Hispanic Finance Committee to Reelect the President, leaving a lasting positive impression on campaign finance chief Maurice Stans, who was Nixon's secretary of commerce.
"He did a pretty credible job and helped raise a half million dollars," Stans recalled. "I think he's pretty notent among the Hispanic community. He's a pretty dynamic guy. What he's doing can't be anything but good for the Republican Party." Stans added that while he intends to stay out of politics, presidential or otherwise, he has met with Fernandez several times and served "as a source of information for him."
While he praises Stans and Nixon for "opening the door for Hispanics" in the GOP, Fernandez describe current Party Chairman Bill Brock as "patronizing" towards his efforts.
Brock, who officially is neutral on the prospective Fernandez candidacy, appears stunned by the criticism coming from the leader of the party's Hispanic division. This year Brock himself raised the Hispani Assembly budget from $80,000 to $140,000 and has made a point of speaking to numerous Hispanic grops in recent months.
Republican National Committee spokesman Pete Teeley maintains that Brock, as much as anyone else in the party, recognizes the importance of winning over Hispanic voters, whoe now total about 5 million and constitute the nation's fastest-growing political bloc.
Despite the growing rift between the party leaderhip and himself, Fernandez pledges to continue his drive until midDecember, when his 11-member Presidential Candiidate Committee is scheduled to officially select its man.
"I don't really care wht the leadershipthinks," Fernandez insisted. "I guess it's just the individualism of the Hispanic coming out in me. We will bring in Hispanics to the party in our way, with our own methods."