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With Obamacare repeal looming, Spanish-language TV ad aims to help vulnerable House Republicans

Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) is seen Oct. 6, 2016, in Lansdowne, Va. She’s set to benefit from a new TV ad campaign bankrolled by a national conservative organization. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)
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This item has been updated.

A conservative group allied with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan believes that Spanish-language networks like Univision and Telemundo won’t help Republicans promote their plans to overhaul the nation’s health-care system — so they’re buying TV ad time to do so.

The new ad touts GOP plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, but it will also offer political air cover to six House Republicans whose reelections rely on growing populations of Latino voters in their districts.

The American Action Network, founded by veteran GOP fundraisers to support Ryan (R-Wis.), will begin airing the new ad Tuesday. The Spanish-language campaign is in addition to a $1.4 million ad campaign launched by the group last week.

Over the next two weeks, the ad is set to air during newscasts, soap operas and weekend sports programming on Univision and Telemundo affiliates in districts represented by Reps. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) (the Sacramento TV market), David Valadao (R-Calif.) (the Fresno market), Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) (Denver), Will Hurd (R-Tex.) (San Antonio) and Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) (the Washington, D.C., market). Digital versions of the ad will air across the Miami-area district of Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), which is one of the most expensive Spanish-language media markets in the country.

Latino voters in each of those districts are always targeted by Democrats to help build support for a challenger to the Republican incumbent. Coffman, Curbelo and Hurd represent just a few of the genuinely “swing” congressional districts left in the country, and those districts switch back and forth between the parties every few cycles. Denham and Valadao are perennial Democratic targets but have won just enough Latino support in recent cycles to keep winning reelection. Sensing trouble amid Trump’s rise and his caustic comments on Mexican immigrants, Coffman last year began wooing Latino voters early in his reelection campaign with a series of ads that emphasized his opposition to Trump’s rhetoric, his decision to learn Spanish and his bipartisan voting record.

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The new AAN ad tells viewers that the new Republican plan would provide “more choices and better care” at lower prices. But the 30-second spot includes no specifics — just broad generalities and an invitation to visit a website where viewers can sign up for email updates.

“Imagine a new path forward,” a female announcer says in Spanish. “Health insurance that provided more choices and better care, at lower costs. A system that puts patients and doctors in charge. Provides peace of mind to people with preexisting conditions. Paves the way for new cures by eliminating senseless regulations. House Republicans have a plan to get there. Without disrupting existing coverage, giving your family the health care it deserves.”

The ad comes as President-elect Donald Trump outlined in a weekend interview with The Washington Post his broad plans to replace President Obama’s health-care law with the goal of “insurance for everybody.”

Trump vows ‘insurance for everybody’ in Obamacare replacement plan

AAN considers it unprecedented that any conservative organization would launch such a Spanish-language campaign so early at the start of a policy fight.

“Too often, Obamacare supporters claimed this law helps Hispanics, yet the number of uninsured Hispanics has grown. Across the country, Hispanic families are facing higher premiums and fewer health care options, and they deserve to know that relief is on the way,” executive director Corry Bliss said in a statement.

AAN cited a study last year by the nonpartisan Commonwealth Fund — which promotes health-care reform — that found that the share of Latinos without health-care coverage grew from 29 percent in 2013 to 40 percent in 2016, higher than other racial or ethnic groups.

The group is advertising in Spanish in part because they don’t expect much help from major Spanish-language media outlets such as Telemundo and Univision, which attract an outsize portion of Latino television viewers and devoted considerable news and advertising resources to promoting the Affordable Care Act after it launched.

“We know that Spanish-language media will not assist conservatives the way they did President Obama during the past eight years, so we want to ensure all Americans — in English and Spanish — know that Republicans have a replacement plan to achieve quality care at a lower cost,” said an AAN official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk frankly about the group’s strategy.

Camilo Pino, a spokesman for Telemundo News, said, “We have covered the Affordable Care Act as we have covered all issues of interest to the Hispanic community: in a fair and objective way and showing all relevant points of view.”

Univision News spokesman Jose Zamora said the network “is focused and committed to informing and providing a public service to the Hispanic community. Access to quality health care at a lower cost is one of the issues that matters most to our audience and we will make sure they have all the news and information they need to receive it. When you reach 92 percent of Hispanic households, your responsibility is to ensure your viewers have all the information they need to make informed decisions, regardless of their political views and affiliations.”

AAN spent tens of millions of dollars on behalf of GOP congressional candidates last year. Set up under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code, the group is not required to disclose the names of its contributors. AAN was founded by veteran GOP fundraiser Fred Malek and former senator Norm Coleman, originally to help promote Ryan and his fiscal policies. Last year it spent tens of millions of dollars bankrolling advertising ads for dozens of Republican congressional candidates, including some who are now set to benefit from the new ad campaign.