GOP convention speakers reflect new importance of Hispanic electorate
Catholic News Service photo
Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuno addresses delegates during the third session of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., Aug. 29.
Catholic News Service
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — With the Hispanic electorate expected to be a pivotal voting bloc in this year's presidential election, the list of speakers at the Republican National Convention in Tampa reflects that reality.
At least five of the scheduled GOP speakers at the Aug. 27-30 convention in Tampa represent new faces of Republican leadership and are from Hispanic populations in the South or West.
Among them, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American, was scheduled to have a key role in introducing GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney before Romney's nomination acceptance speech Aug. 30.
Rubio has been mentioned as a possible presidential candidate in 2016.
"Having Marco Rubio introduce Romney at the convention is a major advancement for Hispanics nationally and for Cuban-Americans specifically," said Sean Foreman, associate professor of political science at Barry University in Miami, a Catholic university located near Rubio's district in South Florida.
The Republican Party is making a concerted effort to reach Hispanic voters and has succeeded in grooming new Hispanic leadership, including two other speakers at the convention: Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval.
Both governors from the West were rumored to be under consideration as Romney's vice-presidential pick. But Romney lags far behind President Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate, among Latino voters, according to opinion polls. A weekly tracking poll for the blog Latino Decisions, taken just before the GOP convention, showed Obama was favored by 65 percent of Latino voters, compared to 26 percent who supported Romney.
"Republicans point out that of many of the 2010 GOP political winners for senator (or) governor races were Hispanic -- showing Republicans may get a bad rap on the issue when actually their record is good on recruiting Hispanic leaders," Foreman said. "They have been fairly successful in the last couple of years in recruiting new Hispanic leaders."
The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials says there are 5,850 Latinos in elected offices nationwide, nine of whom are in statewide posts, including Martinez and Sandoval. Of the total, NALEO said, most (4,371) are in nonpartisan or unaffiliated positions, 1,248 are Democrats, 116 are Republicans and 4 are registered independents.
Republican strategist Karl Rove touched on the topic Aug. 27 at a Politico/Tampa Bay Times breakfast forum, the news organizations reported, saying he was concerned about the Hispanic vote long term. He cautioned that the Republican Party must do better with Hispanic voters lest they fall solidly into the Democratic Party camp as have other minority blocs of voters such as African-Americans.
Hispanics are the country's fastest-growing demographic. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates the current Hispanic population at 52 million, and projects that by 2050 they will constitute about 30 percent of the U.S. population, at 132.8 million.
Other Hispanic speakers at the GOP convention include Texas Senate candidate Ted Cruz and Gov. Luis Fortuno of Puerto Rico. And former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who speaks Spanish fluently and whose wife is a native of Mexico, was also scheduled to speak at the convention.
But whether the Republicans will be successful in moving more Latino voters to their party will depend on more than staging the convention in a heavily Hispanic state like Florida and fielding Hispanic speakers at the convention.
Hispanics are not monolithic in their views and just because someone speaks Spanish and comes from south of the border doesn't mean they will all agree politically, according to Barry University's Foreman.
"I heard Senator Rubio say in an interview ... that Hispanics care about the same issues that all Americans care about: No. 1 is the economy," he said. "While immigration policy, for example, might be important to a subset of Hispanics, overwhelmingly the top priority is creating jobs and job opportunities in this country."
"Democrats tend to speak more softly toward immigrants while Republicans talk tough on border control, but both parties have failed miserably to reform immigration policy in this country," Foreman said.
"Courting Hispanics requires a much more nuanced approach but it is clear that is the way the United States is headed: There will be more Spanish-language households so naturally the country's politics will change."