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Why Barack Obama should thank GOP Sen. Alan Hays for check-Hispanic-citizenship comments

In the race to court the Hispanic vote, which could be pivotal in the upcoming elections, Florida state Sen. Alan Hays just helped sandbag his own party. The Republican groused that, before drawing new Hispanic-heavy legislative and congressional districts, the state should check the citizenship of Latinos.

Not only can the state not afford such a move in a time of budget shortfalls, his party (outnumbered by Democrats in Florida by 500,000) can ill-afford such comments. If President Obama and the Democrats had their way, Hays would be the Republican National Committee chairman. Hispanic Republicans, namely Cubans, are pretty upset with Hays as well. Their constituents are hardwired to mistrust a government that wants to intrude in their lives.

In short, this is the grist of hardball ethnic politics.

The irony: Hays' comments come just as the GOP Florida Senate started to boast of an Hispanic outreach effort. 

Here's the top of today's story on Hays, who won't return calls to explain himself:

TALLAHASSEE -- A state senator’s comments ignited a fierce rebuke from his colleagues Thursday when he said that voters should be screened for citizenship before legislators draw a congressional district to favor Hispanics.

Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, rekindled the divisive debate over illegal immigration when he told the Senate committee reviewing a series of congressional redistricting plans that “before we design a district anywhere in the state of Florida for Hispanic voters, we need to ascertain that they are citizens of the United States.

"We all know there are many Hispanic-speaking people in Florida that are not legal,’’ he said. “And I just don’t think it’s right that we try to draw a district that encompasses people that really have no business voting anyhow,” he said.

“He is calling on a witch hunt before a Hispanic district can be realistically considered,’’ said Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa.