So much has been made of the debate on Wednesday. With good reason. President Obama did not do so well. But my mind goes to the HispanicLatino couple driving off in separate cars to work this morning two days after the debacle in Denver. What should the couple look for now having heard two years of anti-HispanicLatino rhetoric from the Republican party and, two months before the election, having been told by its candidate for President that they are part of the 47 percent of the country that does not matter?
Before the debate, the couple and perhaps their kids already might have been a part of the 70 percent of the HispanicLatino electorate that wanted Obama re-elected. A news report the day before the debate had HispanicLatino support for Obama surpassing 70 percent in some polls. That would be historic, approaching Kennedy-Johnson 1960 and Johnson-Humphrey territory in 1964.
Before Wednesday, the Obama campaign had the pieces of the campaign in fantastic shape. Scoring high enough with women, African Americans, gays and lesbians, Catholics and the elderly, Obama had the final piece of the campaign in much better shape than most would have predicted. No one last year that I know thought that he would get 70 percent of the HispanicLatino vote. But he was on the verge of doing so before Denver and, thereby, on course to putting this thing away.
The question now is whether Mitt Romney did enough to move HispanicLatinos away from Obama and towards a party that routinely is enacting anti-HispanicLatino legislation left and right, cutting education budgets and continuing to believe that any foreign policy problem can be resolved by sending troops abroad.
It remains to be seen whether Romney can unbrand himself. The Obama campaign has to refocus quickly to keep Romney from squiggling out from the GOP tent. Obama’s first debate performance should force his campaign to make sure they do not replicate their candidate’s inexplicable insouciance and instead rush aggressively to stem any bleeding in order protect its lead among HispanicLatinos.
Obama did well enough to salvage something by reminding HispanicLatinos that he more so than Romney would defend those who do not trust big institutions like insurance companies – or Republican-dominated state governments who have drawn targets around the HispanicLatino population. Had the federal government not attacked the discriminatory practices, laws and traditions that penalized HIspanicLatinos and other minorities, the nation would not be what it is today. And Romney during the debate fed the suspicion that the public has of him. A man of too many secrets. And HispanicLatinos do not want any more surprises from Republicans.
Whatever the public thinks of government, it knows that government in the right hands might be the last line of defense when things get rough. The two paths available to HispanicLatinos as offered by Romney and Obama is not a hard choice. In the end, Romney was believable but only in part.
The gains Obama had made to push his share of the HispanicLatino vote to 70 percent or more came courtesy of the Republican anti-HispanicLatino message that ricocheted in HispanicLatino households with veterans or some other connection to the military. Some of these households sporadically vote Republican and are the most vulnerable to flake off now.
To staunch any slippage, the Obama campaign in addition to what it is doing now should consider formulating a specific anti-war message for the HispanicLatino community. Romney already has advocated a foreign policy that as its logical end commits U.S. troops to faraway as yet undeclared wars. And that means HispanicLatino soldiers again bearing the brunt of armed conflict. It was, after all, on foreign policy after the Libyan consulate disaster that Romney was beginning to gain slim traction nationally in the polls.
It would be fair and not extravagant to point out directly that Romney had five – five! – healthy sons who did not serve in the military. HispanicLatinos – veterans most of all – do not react well to those whom they suspect do not believe in community. The Obama campaign can appeal simultaneously to the hundreds of thousands of these sometimes-Republican HispanicLatino households by pivoting to who would better protect veterans’ benefits. These 47-percenters understand that expensive wars do not help them in the future.
That Obama did not put away the election on Wednesday does not mean he cannot put away the indispensable HispanicLatino vote at historic levels – and thereby win re-election, which itself is indispensable to HispanicLatinos.
Jesse Treviño is the former editorial page editor of The Austin American-Statesman.