Could President Obama’s share of the Hispanic/Latino vote – as high as 75 percent according to some polls – be bumped any higher after Mitt Romney selected Paul Ryan as his running mate? Seems unlikely, but the possibility of freezing HispanicLatino support at that stratospheric number alone should make the mouths of Democratic strategists water. Think of it: Romney, clinging to the anti-HispanicLatino message that he embraced during the primary campaign, puts on the ticket a representative of the tea party – comprised of the most vociferous anti-HispanicLatino Republicans.
If Romney’s campaign already was taking a shellacking nationally – his unfavorable rating among all voters is at an unheard of 49 percent for a challenger to an incumbent President – then among HispanicLatinos Romney has tanked. That sound you hear should be Chicago going in for the kill to seal the election.
Giving HispanicLatinos not even a superficial reason – like selecting Marco Rubio – to attract support, Romney’s campaign peaked weeks ago in HispanicLatino households. Romney and the Republican Party evidently have decided to forego the nation’s new demography. Now even traditionally Republican Cuban American voters, the oldest of HispanicLatino households and most of whom depend directly on Medicare, have reason to worry about Romney. Florida, already in danger, is now in serious peril. An effort to penetrate those households with that message now is imperative. And add to it that Ryan basically voted against the embargo of Cuba.
My lingering suspicion is that Republican strategists will attempt to counterbalance the Democratic advantage by unleashing their Superpacs to drive anti-HispanicLatino messages to increase the non-HispanicLatino vote in selected states – accompanied by harsh voter suppression programs. But before that, of course, they will trundle out Brian Sandoval and Susana Martínez of Nevada and New Mexico, respectively, and Rubio himself and Ted Cruz of Texas at their national convention in Tampa to project a patina of inclusion. They will try to market an image rather than peddle a message hard to sell. After all, as much as 62 percent of the budget cuts proposed by Ryan would hit lower-income households while giving hundreds of billions of dollars of tax cuts to the already wealthy. After the convention, Sandoval-Martinez-Rubio-Cruz will campaign not so much among HispanicLatinos as work in pivotal states to convince non-HispanicLatino moderate voters that the Romney-Ryan ticket, anchored by Ryan’s radical budget, is not extreme.
Democrats will follow the Republicans and convene in North Carolina, where keynote speaker San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro can pierce through the Republican veneer but, more important, immediately press his party’s edge among HispanicLatinos. The thrust of Castro’s speech most likely will include language to try to convince all Americans that this is not the time to return to failed policies. But speaking to HispanicLatinos in between the lines, Castro should use his time to rally them to battle, doing so within the promise of what they represent for the future of the country.
Ryan and the tea party avow they are trying to save the nation with their zealous ideas. Castro can attest that Democrats will do the same with real, loyal and hard-working people. Castro’s positive message can contrast sharply and directly with the negativism that underlies a Republican platform that will be clothed in soaring expressions defending individual liberty and freedom while quashing the middle class and minorities.
Not needing to invoke an immigrant past, Castro should build a case for all Americans to involve themselves in the governance of the country at a defining juncture in history. And he should exhort HispanicLatinos – by exhorting all Americans – to engage in this election as never before. HispanicLatinos at heart are not tea partiers, whose fundamentalist anger seems rooted in individual fear of personal loss. Rather, HispanicLatinos are formed by a sense of community that Castro should move to arouse and inspire so that efforts to organize them as voters in the coming weeks can meet with more success than in the past. Castro’s speech is the very coalface of the campaign.
By laying out the historic moment at which Americans and the HispanicLatino population have arrived together, Castro could provide HispanicLatinos with a precise, invigorating sense of who they are and what they can be. Ryan in his maiden speech as a candidate for vice president declared that Democrats “are more worried about their next election than they are about the next generation.” Castro physically refutes that argument, yet his words must supplement his youthful appearance not through a personal speech about his own life but rather by demonstrating how his generation will make America safe and greater. He does not have to say he is educated, etc. That will be obvious enough. He needs to take the speech to a level of effectiveness that works to allay the unease of a nation anxious about the future.
Sandoval-Martínez-Rubio-Cruz in Tampa will talk as if HispanicLatinos as a group have attained the same economic and educational standing of most Americans and as if HispanicLatinos enjoy the same access to healthcare. The vast majority of HispanicLatinos knows better. And if they hear the Democratic argument put in a way that no one ever has on so prominent a stage, they will respond – with perhaps as much as 75 percent of their vote – or more.
And so might the rest of the nation.