A Latino VP? Once Again Democrats Say, “Mañana”

A Latino VP?  Once Again Democrats Say, “Mañana”

Anti-Trump rhetoric and the sweet sounds of Spanish won't be enough to mollify Latino voters

Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential running mate Tim Kaine made a big splash in Florida last week, suggesting – in Spanish – that Latinos in the United States, despite criticism from the likes of Donald Trump, “deserve to be here.”

But apparently, they’re still not qualified to sit on the Democratic Party ticket.

Clinton, after weeks of public vetting, decided to pass over two prominent Latino candidates for VP – Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro and Secretary of Labor Tom Perez.   Both men were featured prominently in news reports about the VP selection process, and Castro was supposedly on the former First Lady’s “short list.”

Publicly, Latino leaders are doing their best to mute their disappointment.  They want access to the new administration should Clinton win.  They’ll have it, as long as they keep their mouths shut — and support the national ticket.

But privately, it’s a bitter pill to swallow.

It’s not the first time, either.   In 2004, Democrat John Kerry publicly flirted with the idea of putting New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson or Henry Cisneros, like Castro a former San Antonio mayor and HUD secretary (under Bill Clinton), on the ticket.

Kerry went out of his way to praise both men.  And at one point, Cisneros was led to believe – much as Castro was — that his nomination was likely.

He had reason to be hopeful.  George W. Bush had won an impressive 35% of the Latino vote in 2000, and the fast-growing Latino population was being hailed as the “Sleeping Giant” of American politics.   With just a few more Latino votes — and a higher turn-out — the Democrats might have won Florida – and with it, the White House, some reasoned.

It turned out to be wishful thinking.  Kerry not only failed to choose Cisneros, he never seriously competed for the Latino vote.  While Bush took out Spanish-language ads and made a furious pitch for Hispanic support, Kerry pulled back, and focused his efforts elsewhere.  Bush walked away with a record 44% of the Latino vote and a resounding re-election win.

Twelve years later, much has changed – or has it?   Latinos have surpassed African-Americans as the nation’s largest ethnic group – 17% to 13% and the gap is growing – and their share of the national electorate exceeds 10%.   The Obama administration has pushed for immigration reform and has  appointed more Latino cabinet members than his predecessors in addition to the first Latina to serve on the Supreme Court.

Once again, Latinos got their hopes up.  For weeks, Castro and Perez were shown off, ruminated over, and praised.  But it’s doubtful that either man was ever a serious contender.

Some would say, for good reason.  Neither has serious executive or national security experience.   Perez is an able advocacy lawyer who served in local government in Maryland and Castro is a former seven-term mayor in a city where the position is largely ceremonial.  Moreover, he’s already come under fire for a series of missteps during his brief tenure at HUD.

Arguably, both men are political greenhorns who were unlikely to help a candidate struggling to woo moderates and independents and even some disaffected Republicans.

Still, for Latinos, “identity politics” matters.  So does the perception of being treated with respect.

Clinton, like most Democrats, may think that Latinos have “nowhere else to go.”  She’s depicted Donald Trump as an anti-immigrant bigot, and has been cheered by early polls suggesting Trump may end up with the lowest GOP share of the Latino vote in decades.   Rather than excite Latinos herself, she may try to let anti-Trump sentiment drive voters to the polls.

It’s a mistake.  Clinton’s own favorability ratings with Latinos are sagging.  And more recent polls show Trump – who has abandoned his call for mass deportations — rising to 30% or more of the Latino vote – higher than Mitt Romney in 2012.  Clinton still needs a strong Latino turn-out in states like Florida and Nevada to counter Trump’s extraordinary advantage with white voters, especially white males.

But despite a surge in Latino voter registration, she may not get it.

In the weeks ahead, Clinton’s “enthusiasm gap” with her Latino base will become more apparent.  And it will take more than the sweet sounds of Spanish on the campaign trail to close it.

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