Chris Christie’s re-election as governor of New Jersey earlier this month sparked another round of speculation that he would run for president in 2016, and, this time around, that he might choose New Mexico’s Republican Governor Susana Martinez as his running mate. In the homestretch, Martinez stumped for Christie in areas of New Jersey densely populated by Latinos. Statewide, he won a majority of their votes, even more than the vaunted 40 percent that George W. Bush won in the 2004 presidential race.
Democrats dismissed Christie’s success among Latinos as an anomaly that was due to his charisma and praiseworthy response to Hurricane Sandy. They noted the different outcome in Virginia, where Democrat Terry McAuliffe defeated Republican Ken Cuccinelli, who drew attacks for mentioning rat control and immigration policy in the same breath. Perhaps such parries and thrusts are only public pronouncements, and Democratic strategists behind the scenes are dissecting what happened. I hope so, because counting on your opponents to screw up isn’t a sound political strategy.
Republicans are eager to avoid an embarrassment in 2016 like the one they experienced in 2012. They attributed Mitt Romney’s defeat in no small part to his poor showing among Latinos. Almost the morning after, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus began a hard and steady drumbeat calling for “Hispanic outreach,” a term that paints a picture of aimless Latino voters who are there for the plucking if candidates just show up. Last month, the RNC allocated $10 million to outreach, hiring directors such as Jennifer Sevilla Korn — the former director of the conservative Hispanic Leadership Network — and sending foot soldiers to more than a dozen states to convert Latinos.
So far, Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz have captured most of the headlines, but with support from groups like the Republican National Hispanic Assembly, established in the late 1960s, and newer ones including the Latino National Republican Coalition and the Future Majority Caucus, scores of Latino conservatives have won elected positions across the country. The Future Majority Caucus wants to recruit more than 100 Latino Republicans to run for office in the near future, boasts about its multimillion-dollar fundraising successes and claims responsibility for helping to elect 15 new Latino Republicans in nine states in 2012 alone. This is the Latino conservative political machine at work.
Will a generally conservative platform that largely avoids appeals to the politics of ethnicity win the support of Latino voters?
As Latinos have spread across the country, so have Latino conservatives. Rep. Robert Cornejo hails from Missouri, Rep. Paul Espinosa from West Virginia, state Sen. Art Linares from Connecticut, and state Sen. Ernesto “Ernie” Lopez from Delaware. They’re lawyers, businesspeople and educators. Cornejo graduated from Washington University in St. Louis and is a partner at a law firm in Columbia. Espinosa is the general manager of a communications company and has served as president of a local Rotary Club and chamber of commerce. Before he ran for office, Linares volunteered for Sen. Marco Rubio. And Lopez is an administrator at the University of Delaware.
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