After their innumerable convention speeches, backslapping meetings and highly produced self-congratulatory videos in Charlotte and Tampa, the two political parties now confront the challenge of developing a strategy to attract and persuade Hispanic and Latinos to vote for either President Obama’s reelection or Mitt Romney’s candidacy. The polls are testing sorely the conviction of political strategists that a growing number of HispanicLatinos are swing voters whose decisions presumably would make a real difference in the election.
As the HispanicLatino population grows in number, it is inevitable that the raw number of independent HispanicLatino voters will grow – in which case a plan to generate a strong turnout from the traditional Democratic base is critical. Conversely, an effective campaign message for potentially Republican HispanicLatino swing voters is ever more important.
Aside from developing a compelling message for HispanicLatino swing voters, Republicans face the immediate challenge of how to make sure HispanicLatinos heading to the polls intending to vote for Romney are not asked for identification that they cannot produce. Republican mavens also have to find a way to prevent voters intending to vote for Romney but who are asked – in effect – to prove their citizenship from being so offended as to change their vote on the spot. Of the two parties, the Republican campaign has the more difficult job.
The Romney campaign does have a new tool at its disposal. Its new star – Susana Martínez of New Mexico – is an attractive asset who can appeal to the national HispanicLatino vote that is overwhelmingly of Mexican origin more so than Marco Rubio operating from his Cuban base in Florida. If either Martínez and fellow Gov. Brian Sandoval of Nevada leave their critical states, they will be misused. With the exception of an odd foray or two into equally important Colorado, seeing either governor elsewhere would not maximize their value and usefulness in states that Romney is counting to wrest from Obama.
The logic behind keeping Martínez and Sandoval within their 33 and 17 counties respectively is that the now nationally recognized mayor of San Antonio, Julián Castro, can neutralize if not outright trump the two governors in their home states – all because of the strident anti-immigrant GOP rhetoric that has so alienated so many HispanicLatinos, especially those of Mexican descent. In Castro, a new Republican death star was born.
But more important for Democratic strategists than using notable Democratic leaders is the dominant characteristic of the HispanicLatino consumer, who consistently ranks the highest in product loyalty. Democratic party strategists who would take for granted the tendency of HispanicLatinos to vote Democratic would err badly. But if they understand how closely tied to product loyalty is memory, then they have a chance to meet the 70-percent mark the Obama campaign thirsts for – and generate a healthy turnout in the process.
HispanicLatinos, products of a defined history, are not as prone to amnesia as other Americans. Individuals who stick to the products they are comfortable with can be reminded easily of the Bush years – a bad product indeed. Like Republicans sticking to Martínez and Nevada campaigning in their states, Democrats should stick to reminding HispanicLatinos about the Bush economic collapse and how bad it could get under Romney. It is that simple. The temptation is to lead off with education, health care and all of those, yes, important issues. Tactically speaking, HispanicLatinos have heard all of that before ad nauseum. For the moment, reminding HispanicLatinos of the Bush economy and of Republican attempts to limit their social, political and economic advancement should lessen the attractiveness of the already-damaged Republican brand. By emphasizing the anti-HispanicLatino sentiment that exists in large parts of the Republican party, Castro simultaneously can increase the resolve of threatened HispanicLatinos to vote – and thereby increase turnout.
Engineering Castro’s emergence into a nationally recognized figure was brilliant. Aside from possibly checkmating Martínez and Sandoval locally in New Mexico and Nevada, Castro can mimic the successful Republican appeal to moderate female voters in 2000 that cast George W. Bush as a compassionate conservative. Castro’s involvement in the campaign can supersede the “soft-bigotry-of-low-expectations” argument with which Bush bamboozled female and Catholic voters. The charming, non-threatening Castro embodies the very promise of the HispanicLatino community. To that end, he can be deployed legitimately to states with high concentrations of white senior citizens (Iowa, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Florida) and present himself in the flesh as the charming Democratic personification of the kind of American who will save their Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid. Castro is the anti-Ryan. He also can offset Rubio’s appeal to the growing non-Cuban HispanicLatino community in Florida that is offended by GOP anti-immigrant rhetoric and by anti-HispanicLatino legislation enacted in Republican-controlled states. And in more than a few Cuban American households, Medicare matters.
Both sides have created new assets that they must manage adeptly either to swing a new and growing market or to extend its reach.
Jesse Treviño is the former editorial page editor of The Austin American-Statesman and writes at HispanicLatino.com.