Rise of the Conservative Latinos

Geraldo L. Cadava, Ozy, November 23, 2013

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. {snip}

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. {snip} 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. {snip}

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Will a generally conservative platform that largely avoids appeals to the politics of ethnicity win the support of Latino voters? Perhaps. This is another reason to take Christie’s success among Latinos seriously. Many have noted that Latinos aren’t a politically coherent group. To win their support requires microtargeting specific Latino communities. President Obama used this strategy to great effect, placing distinct ads among Cubans and Puerto Ricans in Florida, for example.

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But as part of Christie’s re-election campaign, a Mexican American from New Mexico appealed—apparently successfully—to the largely Puerto Rican and Dominican Latinos of New Jersey, where Mexicans and Mexican Americans account for only 14 percent of the Latino population. Might this suggest the potential of a generically conservative crossover appeal? If I were a Democratic strategist, I wouldn’t bet that it doesn’t.

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