January 2, 2020 / The Hill
I recently attended a luncheon in Los Angeles honoring Stu Spencer, the pioneering Republican campaign consultant. Spencer, with his now deceased business partner, Bill Roberts, helped create Governor and President Ronald Reagan.
Spencer and Roberts were my bosses in my first paid campaign job, San Diego County campaign coordinator for the 1962 reelection of Thomas H. Kuchel (R-Calif.), the man who replaced Richard Nixon in the Senate when he was elected vice president.
I approached the 90-some-year-old Spencer, who I hadn’t seen since the last Ronald Reagan campaign (1984), and asked him if he remembered me. “Sure,” he said.
“Wow,” I remarked. “How do you remember me after all these years?”
“Simple,” he said, “There weren’t many of you working in politics in the 60s.”
By “you” he meant Mexicans, or what are now called Hispanics. In fact, he told me that when he and Roberts hired me in 1962, not a single other Mexican American worked for any Republican statewide candidate in California. He said he couldn’t remember any Mexican American Democrats working professionally in any Democratic statewide political campaign in that year either.
Neither political party paid much attention to Hispanics/Latinos in 1962. For one thing, no one knew how many there were in the U.S. No conscious effort was made to count them until Richard Nixon’s census of 1970. In 1950, for example, “Spanish surnames” were used to count what are now called Hispanics or Latinos. That's not very precise. The incumbent party's presidential candidate in last year’s Mexican presidential race was named Meade.
Fast forward to today, and what do we find? Sixty-one million Hispanics in the U.S., most of whom are of Mexican origin and are concentrated in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Florida and Texas.
Donald Trump has made today’s Republican Party an inhospitable place for Hispanics. The result is that the GOP was slaughtered by a dominant Hispanic/Mexican influx into voter rolls in California in 2018. The Democratic wave wiped out seven congressional Republican incumbents.
Based on historically high Hispanic votes for George W. Bush in the presidential elections of 2000 and 2004 that exceeded 40 percent, some commentators (including me) predicted that Hispanic voters could easily elect Republicans any year in which they were asked to vote Republican. Then came Mitt Romney, the son of a natural-born Mexican citizen. He advocated “self-deportation” of Mexicans illegally in the U.S. Donald Trump’s Hispanic vote was worse. Only Florida’s Cuban Americans gave Trump significant (52 percent) votes.
Latino Decisions performed 2016 vote counts in Florida, Virginia, California, Texas and Wisconsin and determined that Trump received roughly one-fifth of the 2016 Hispanic vote, the lowest ever recorded for a Republican candidate for president since 1968, when Hispanic votes started to be tallied.
Given that, the 2018 off-year congressional election proved that Hispanics migrated en masse to victorious Democrats. Not only did Hispanic voter participation significantly rise, but so did the percentage of Hispanics who voted for Democrats. 2018 set the political stage for a potential 2020 tsunami of Mexican/Hispanic votes for Democrats.
So why are Hispanic activists complaining about being ignored and taken for granted by the Democratic candidates for president?
They are being ignored by Democrats. Hispanic Democratic voters deliver California’s 55 electoral votes and have increasing clout in Texas (38 votes) and Florida (29 votes). It is hard to lose when a candidate starts with those 122 electoral votes out of the 270 needed to win the presidency.
Two years ago, “Texicans” turned out in such numbers that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who is of Cuban descent, won reelection over an ersatz “Hispanic” who had culturally appropriated his campaign name – Beto – to the disgust of some Hispanics. But he was a Democrat and Cruz is a Cuban. (Mexicans don’t like Cubans, and Cubans don’t like Mexicans.)
Starting in 2024, or maybe 2028, it is plausible that a Democratic Party that actively courts Hispanic votes in Texas will add that state to Florida and California, putting them in good shape to win future presidential elections. But so far in this election cycle, Democrats have been ignoring the voters who could be their ticket back to the presidency.
Hispanics are the largest ethnic minority group in the U.S. and have issues they care and vote about. America is no longer a black and white nation politically. When will the political parties begin to understand this?
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