When Americans see Texans on the national stage in 2012, they won’t be looking at the white faces of Gov. Perry or Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. You might remember, the former was supposed to be president and the latter was supposed to be our next U.S. Senator. Instead, they’ll see the Latino faces of our likely next senator, Republican Ted Cruz and Democratic San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro. It was announced last week Castro’s been chosen to be the keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention. Cruz, it was just announced, will speak to the Republican National Convention.
By choosing Castro as their keynote speaker, Democrats are once again telling us Latinos are important. But, I question whether they’re doing the work to win the Latino vote or even to get those folks to the polls. So far, the Democratic strategy seems to be a complex mix of waiting and hoping for Texas Republicans to screw up.
“They’re waiting for the demographics to catch up,” said political consultant Marc Campos, who says he’s simultaneously a loyal Democrat and one of the state party’s biggest critics. “Sure, Democrats can win that way but maybe not in my lifetime,” he laughed.
Campos says Democrats are only engaging voters in urban areas and completely ignoring the suburbs and rural Texas, where many so many Latinos now live. In fact, of the 360,000 Latinos registered to vote in Harris County, nearly 60 percent live in the suburbs. And they didn’t move there because the suburbs are Republican strongholds.
“They move out there because there’s housing they can afford and somebody told them the schools are better,” Campos said. Ignoring those voters is “serious messed up thinking on the part of Democrats. I don’t know what it’s going to take for them to get it.”
For his part, Ted Cruz is already saying things on the national stage that will resonate with Latinos. He told Fox News Sunday Host Chris Wallace that “in my life I’ve never once have seen a Hispanic panhandler, because in our community, it would be viewed as shameful to be out on the street begging.” While those comments have received the most attention, they are perhaps not the most damaging for Cruz’s political adversaries.
“Do you know the rate of military enlistment among Hispanics is higher than any demographic in this country?” Cruz asked with a grin. Democrats consistently miss the mark on easy stuff this. Why is it every time a wounded veteran receives a free home, it’s given to him by a group associated with Republicans? The themes of faith, family, and military aren’t the ideas Latinos or anyone automatically associate with Democrats.
“We’re in an interesting moment right now when it comes to seeing a larger Latino presence in electoral politics and government,” said University of Texas Political Scientist James Henson. “But, how much connective tissue is there between the organic participation of Latinos driving an increase in Latino political leaders and the figures that get public attention and support from the party infrastructure?”
Campos, the Democratic consultant, pointed to the presidential primary in 2008 when Senators Clinton and Obama were vying for their party’s nomination. “At that time, people were saying ‘Texas Latinos will have a say’ and everyone was calling me to ask how they could get involved,” he said. “When people actually get the feeling their votes will make a difference, they’ll show up.”