By Evelyn Perez-Verdia
In “La Florida” I have been part of political campaigns, worked for a Congressman and have advised several election offices. We reached out to many Hispanics in my tenure with each of them. However, that has not been a standard practice for my contemporaries.
Time and time again, Hispanic advocates, the media and pundits alike have looked at Hispanic’s voter registration numbers, and have urged politicians, campaigns and governments regardless of their political affiliation, to reach out to Latino voters. Time and time again, the response of many was: “Who cares, they don’t vote, and in turn, they don’t matter”. Of course, this is something said behind closed doors.
The Republican Party is very aware of its lack of connectivity and is getting to work, with a vengeance. The Koch brothers and the Republican Party have invested millions to trash Obamacare “En Español” and are attempting to defeat South Florida Congressman Joe Garcia in the upcoming November election. However, there is also a true desire to connect with Latinos from many. One man who has been at the forefront is the man married to a Mexican woman, Jeb Bush. For years now he and his sons have helped place conferences together to try to connect again with Latinos. There are many individuals that identify with Ronald Reagan, but cannot identify with the Republican Party.
On a larger level, people like President George W. Bush understood the importance of the Hispanic vote. Jorge Ramos’ book “The Latin Wave” talks about the famous Miami based TV show host, Don Francisco asking to interview candidates George W. Bush and Al Gore. The story is that George W. Bush immediately accepted and even threw in some Spanish words. He made Don Francisco and all of his followers feel welcome. He enticed them to vote for him as President of the United States of America. He made sure they knew that he could not do it without them. On the other hand, it was difficult to reach Al Gore and finally the campaign was able to “allow” Don Francisco to get in a plane and interview him at an airport. Don Francisco had to accommodate the Al Gore campaign. The story says that Al Gore was cold and my understanding is that he was not entirely sure who the man in front of him was. George W. Bush becomes president and is loved by Latinos for his constant ability to try to connect with Latinos, even though his politics did not help them, his little Spanish and his ability to enamor them did. However, years later, the love affair was over and Hispanics felt used.
On the Democratic side, Obama becomes president and opens Latinos eyes that there is a possibility for a Hispanic to become president. Obama embraced Latinos, he promised to pass a law for “dreamers” and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. In 2009, he started showing his love by appointing the first Hispanic woman to the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor. Latinos saw the light at the end of the tunnel but did not forget about his promise to make changes that would affect many Latinos nationwide. It is not by coincidence that on June 15, 2012, right before voters would go to the polls to re-elect him, President Obama announced that his administration would stop deporting young illegal aliens who match certain criteria previously proposed under the DREAM ACT. In turn, 60% percent of the Florida Hispanic vote went to Obama. At a national level, 75% of the Latino population voted for Obama, beating by 3% the Latino voter turnout for the man that many Latinos love worldwide, Bill Clinton. This proves that when politicians touch their hearts, or dare I say “feel their pain”, Latinos come out to vote. Thus awakening the “sleeping giant” that can change the whole paradigm of how American politics works.
While the Democrats took the victory with Latino Americans, the Republican Latino Outreach wanted to put a sock in Romney’s mouth as he stated that the Arizona law SB1070 should be a model for our entire nation. Many moderate Republicans supported Romney as their candidate, but shook their head as they saw the party shoot themselves in the foot as they separated themselves more from the Hispanic community to gain the Tea Party fanatic’s vote. How he possibly wishes that people could now see him as they see him in the movie “Mitt”. Now, the Republicans who are trying to engage with minority groups are treating the Tea Party as that brother who says uncomfortable things and they ask him to please go to his room because he is causing embarrassment.
The Hispanic vote is not entirely dormant. Actually, according to USF’s distinguished Political Science professor, Dr. Susan MacManus, in Florida, 39% of Hispanics are Democrats, 30% are Republicans and 29% are NPA. There is no way to know how they are going to sway, you just have to find a good reason to make them participate. The Hispanic vote is very well alive, ready to explode, and when it does, it will change how everyone sees politics. However, the campaign strategy will need to change.