Could Latino Discontent Doom Hillary Clinton?

Will Hillary Clinton offset a potential Latino voter protest by picking Obama Cabinet member Julian Castro as her running mate?

Will Hillary Clinton, should she be the Democratic presidential nominee, offset a potential Latino voter protest at the polls by picking Obama Cabinet member Julian Castro as her running mate?

AMERICAN POLITICAL HISTORY IS rife with presidential elections that were determined well before the year in which the campaigns were held.

The most prominent example in our lifetime may have been Jimmy Carter’s election in 1976 that likely was decided when his opponent, incumbent President Gerald Ford, pardoned his successor, the disgraced Richard Nixon, whose Watergate scandal brought down his presidency.

Four decades later, could that happen again? Has next year’s presidential election been determined by President Barack Obama’s broken promises for comprehensive immigration reform —  which has angered many immigration reform activists, including some threatening a boycott of the 2016 elections?

Could a low Hispanic voter turnout among traditionally Democratic-voting Latinos, caused by disappointment over the Obama failure to secure comprehensive immigration reform legislation, cost preemptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton the presidency?

There were renewed signs of that on Cinco de Mayo in Southern California when some Latinos — Union del Barrio-LA, MEXA de ELAC and the Los Angeles Brown Berets — protested Clinton’s appearance at a rally at East Los Angeles College.

“Organizers called Clinton an enemy of the working class,” LA Weekly reported. “They also argue that her Central American policies as secretary of state caused death, destruction and deportation.”

Last fall, members of a DREAMers’ organization confronted the former Secretary of State at a North Carolina rally over the Obama administration’s dismal record on immigration reform, raising the possibility that disillusioned young Latinos could threaten to urge the nation’s 25.2 million Hispanic voters to skip casting ballots in 2016.

Latinos boycotting the election would be payback for the foot-dragging by President Obama on immigration reform, which he promised in 2008 but has put off successfully championing in Congress and has only minimally executed through executive action.

Democrats in California today are still reeling from the likelihood that the notoriously low turnout among Hispanic voters in the 2014 off-year elections likely cost former Assembly Speaker John Perez the state controller’s election.

Perez, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s cousin, finished behind fellow Democrat Betty Yee by fewer than 500 votes, dampening the rising star dreams of the once politically powerful Perez, who had been a favorite to win the office.

Latinos make up more than one of every five registered voters — 22.7 percent — in California. But for Perez’s important statewide election they voted at a rate of just 6 percent.

Although Latinos historically have been low turnout voters, especially in mid-term elections, no one expected the dismally low turnout would cost Hispanics a statewide office and also raise questions about 2016, especially if immigration reform activists follow through on their boycott threat.

The reason for the President continually putting immigration reform on the backburner has been nothing short of playing politics. In 2014, Obama chose not to risk giving Republicans something more with which to rally their faithful in that mid-term year, fearing that the Democrats could lose control of the Senate in his final two years as president.

The GOP, however, captured the Senate anyway and, with control of the House of Representatives, virtually assured that the already sparse Obama legacy would have little more to showcase in his lame-duck years.

It has been theorized in recent years that not only could the ever-increasing Latino vote decide the next presidential election and those beyond, but it could shift the balance of power that will be felt negatively in 2016. A poor Latino turnout would effectively serve as a Hispanic voter boycott.

DREAMers and other immigration reform activists could potentially turn presidential politics on its ear.

“By mobilizing against Mrs. Clinton,” The New York Times reported last fall, “the self-named Dreamers hope to pressure her to commit to immigration change or risk losing critical Latino votes.”

Cristina Jimenez, managing director of United We Dream, the largest national network of young undocumented immigrants, was even more direct in threatening to launch a campaign urging withdrawal of support by the traditionally Democratic-voting Latinos from the 2016 Democratic ticket.

“If you’re going to pick politics over our families,” said Jimenez, “you should know that you can’t take this constituency for granted.”

This is especially critical for Clinton, considering that the Latino vote could potentially be even more important for her than it was for Obama.

In 2008, it was the overwhelming Latino vote that helped Clinton almost overtake Obama in their bitter Democratic primary battle for the nomination. That year, in Super Tuesday’s 16 primaries, Clinton carried 63 percent of the Hispanic vote compared with 35 percent for Obama.

The question now is whether Democrats will take the threat of a Latino boycott seriously.

It might do them well to acquaint themselves with what amounted to a similar Latino boycott in Texas in 1970, a time when Hispanic voters in the Lone Star State were proportionately the biggest Latino group in America.

Disillusioned with the Democratic Party, young Latino activists urged Hispanic voters not to vote in the 1970 election but instead to sign a petition to get the Chicano movement’s Raza Unida political party on the ballot for the 1972 election.

Texas state laws did not allow voters to both vote in the elections and sign the petition.

Ultimately, the Chicano activists succeeded in getting enough signatures from Latino voters to qualify La Raza Unida for the 1972 ballot. In doing so, though, the low turnout of Latino voters had an unintended historic impact.

U.S. Senator Ralph Yarborough, the incumbent darling of Texas progressives who was seeking re-election, was upset in the Democratic primary by businessman Lloyd Bentsen in a defeat that many liberals blamed on Chicano activists and their Latino voter boycott.

For Clinton, her potential problem with Latino voters is now compounded by statements she has made in the past while attempting to support the Obama administration’s decisions delaying immigration reform — as well as comments about the tens of thousands of Central American immigrant children who flooded across the border in 2014.

“I don’t think she had any idea of how that response was perceived by a young Dreamer who is thinking, ‘Um, we’ve elected a lot of Democrats,’” says Frank Sharry, executive director of the pro-immigration group America’s Voice.

“Immigration is not the only issue, but it is the defining issue, and she will need to learn that the old lines and old dynamics no longer apply.”

Why Ted Cruz’s presidential candidacy is important

Sen. Ted Cruz on Monday became the first major candidate to declare his candidacy for the 2016 presidential campaign. (AP Photo for Voxxi.com/J. Scott Applewhite)

Republican Texas Senator Ted Cruz on Monday, March 23, became the first major candidate to declare his candidacy for the 2016 presidential campaign. (AP Photo for Voxxi.com/J. Scott Applewhite)

RONALD REAGAN ONCE said that Latinos were Republicans. They just didn’t know it yet.

Ted Cruz, the Republican U.S. senator from Texas who has become the first major candidate to officially enter the 2016 presidential campaign, is quietly gambling that those words were never truer than in the upcoming campaign where he also apparently becomes the first major Latino figure to run for the White House.

The importance of Cruz’s entry into the race, however, is not that he is running as a Latino. Clearly he is not. Nor, quite frankly, should any Hispanic be running for that or any office on his ethnicity any more than, say, a Jewish candidate entering any campaign as little more than a Jewish candidate.

Instead, the significance of Ted Cruz is that he has not made his Latinoness an issue nor a cornerstone of his candidacy, and that the news media has not been quick to make him being Hispanic the historical importance that it placed on Jesse Jackson when he ran for president in 1984 or Barack Obama when he announced he was entering the 2008 campaign.

All that is important for the large segment of Latinos in America who are not recent immigrants, who are no more the activists of immigration reform than they were of the Chicano movement back in the 1960s.

Those Latinos made up most of the 8 million Hispanic Americans in the U.S. in 1972, and they along with with children and grandchildren still make up the bulk of the 50 million now in the country and, more importantly, of those who are eligible and registered to vote — and who do vote.

They are the ones that Ronald Reagan was talking about. And they are the ones that Republicans are now targeting.

It is not new that many, including some conservative Republicans, believe that Latinos hold the fate of upcoming political elections in their hands.

What is new, though, is just how diligent and undeterred the GOP has been in quietly wooing the traditionally loyal Hispanics, trying to help them discover that, as the party patron saint Ronald Reagan said, they are Republicans and just haven’t realized it.

In the past year, the GOP has spent more than $10 million in improving its Hispanic field operations in key states and flooding the air with Spanish-language advertisements.

The Republican National Committee has also launched “Hispanic engagement field teams” in nine states, with two dozen paid staff members on the ground reaching out to Latinos.

“The message we are going to give Latinos is about jobs, about education and about Obamacare,” says the GOP’s Rosario Marin, the California political operative who was U.S. treasurer under George W. Bush.

Marin, now a RNC advisory board member, insists that the national debate on immigration has not hurt Republicans, pointing to Chris Christie carrying 51 percent of the Hispanic vote in his gubernatorial reelection triumph last year in New Jersey, and the GOP’s David Jolly winning a special congressional election in Florida.

In fact, a Pew Hispanic Center survey agreed that immigration is not the most important issue to Latinos, ranking behind education, the economy and health care.

Marin and others maintain that the anti-Republican sentiment over the congressional impasse is exaggerated and offset by President Obama’s struggles with the immigrant community over deportations.

The GOP is also drawing encouragement from a Gallup poll in Texas in which more Latinos identified themselves as Republican than in the country as a whole.

Democrats hold a 30 percent advantage among Latinos over Republicans nationally, but that difference is only 19 percent in Texas, where Democrats had hoped to make inroads into the GOP’s two-decade stranglehold on the Lone Star State in last year’s mid-term election but failed miserably.

James Duarte, a retired state employee a former Democrat and current independent, typifies third and fourth generation Latino Americans who he couldn’t see himself voting for gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis – paradoxically over the issue that made her the state’s Democratic Party darling.

“I (couldn’t) get behind a candidate whose chief claim is being pro-abortion,” Duarte, an American G.I. Forum leader among Latino veterans, says of Davis, who skyrocketed to national fame last year because of a legislative filibuster opposing an abortion bill.

But Duarte’s disenchantment goes even deeper. Asked if he would be more enthusiastic over a Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, he shook his head.

“I don’t see myself being any more interested in a Hillary Clinton campaign,” he said.

“I think I have just lost faith in the Democrats asking us to vote for them but not having one of us as the candidate at the top of the ticket.

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