With 10 Republican presidential candidates making the varsity debate at the University of Colorado in Boulder, one-man media show Donald Trump, and neurosurgeon Ben Carson, took center stage as the top polling candidates. Florida Senator, Marco Rubio, former Florida Governor, Jeb Bush, Texas Senator, Ted Cruz, and former Hewlett Packard CEO, Carly Fiorina, round out the list of top polling Republicans. The Republican Party cohort looked positively diverse. So why aren’t more people of color and women committed to voting for the eventual Republican nominee? Events prior to the debate may give some indication.
While Republican candidates rolled into Denver one and two days early for fundraisers and rallies, Latino activists on both sides of the aisle decried the anti-immigrant rhetoric of Trump and relative silence or concurrence on the issue coming from other candidates.
In a historic news conference prior to the debate, Latino Republicans including representatives from the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and Hispanic Leadership Fund caucused to denounce the way the Latino community has been vilified. The groups discussed candidates who would not receive their support and would not obtain sufficient Latino votes to win a general election.
Latino Democrats also got in the act with three former presidential cabinet members, Federico Peña, Ken Salazar and Katherine Archuleta headlining the “My Country, My Vote,” event which brought hundreds to a spirited rally, discounting anti-Latino messages and kicking off a year-long voter registration drive.
People for the American Way (PFAW), a liberal political group commenced running Spanish-language radio ads in Virginia, another swing state like Colorado, blasting Trump for his anti-Latino blather. If successful, the group has discussed running the ads in other markets. PFAW board member and United Farm Workers co-founder, Dolores Huerta, co-hosted a roundtable discussion in Denver with Latino activists and students in anticipation of the Republican event. Though the issue of immigration brought the group of a dozen Colorado Latinos together, the discussion spanned women’s reproductive rights, economic progress, climate change, criminal justice and LGBT issues – showing the diverse interests of the Latino community but also emphasizing their disgust with the caustic rhetoric aimed at the Latino community.
Roundtable co-host, Representative Joe Salazar declared, “Republicans coming to town will run into resistance. Regardless of whether we are Democrats or Republicans, we are tired of the demagoguery. The recently arrived should be treated like family.”
With the Latino vote topping 10 percent of the total national electorate for the first time in history in 2012 and projected to be an even larger percentage in November 2016, Latino activists have an instant platform. According to a September Washington Post/ABC News poll, Trump support among Latinos currently stands at 15 percent, even lower than the support garnered by losing Republican presidential candidates, John McCain and Mitt Romney, who each topped out with only 25 percent of the Latino vote.
Bush is counting on leading all Republican candidates among Latinos. He has followed the lead of his brother, George W., who gained over 40 percent of the Latino vote in his presidential win. Spanish-speaking, and married to a Mexican woman, Bush has remained more centrist in his views regarding immigration, than other GOP candidates. His more moderate stance has been rewarded by prominent Latino support. The Washington Post poll has Bush viewed positively by 43 percent of Latino voters.
Despite higher ratings than his peers, Bush still faces challenges with Latinos. The soft-spoken but politically potent Huerta noted, “Just because he speaks Spanish doesn’t make him credible.”
Huerta also went after Rubio, the other Spanish-speaker in the race, “Rubio had a chance to act on immigration and he turned his back. There is no leadership there.”
Huerta’s comments on Trump joined the chorus of choice words for the candidate. “His words are tragic. When he refers to ‘anchor babies’ he is attacking American citizens. He is attacking children.”
As pundits sift through the winners and losers of the debate, none of the candidates seemed to impress Latinos that rallied beforehand. The Republican uphill battle for the Latino vote continues.