Rudy, the Republicans and the Hispanic Vote

“Unfortunately, this shows the true nature of the Castro regime.  When churches are tear-gassed and teenagers arrested for wearing wristbands that say “cambio” (change) the world should clearly that the time for freedom has come for Cuba.” Rudy Giuliani, December 7, 2007.

Well-said for Giuliani’s political strategy and for the current situation in Cuba.  Mayor Giuliani looks to Florida as a strategic corner stone.  Rudy is basically passing on the early primaries in order to have his first big win in Florida.  His strategy is big-state oriented and, since 2000, there is no bigger catch for Republicans than Florida. Florida has a large number of registered and regular voters in the Cuban community that traditionally vote Republicans and they want to hear Cuba is free again.

Just before the Univision channel Republican debate this weekend, there were reports that the Castro regime had cracked down and arrested a number of dissident youths and instigated attacks on churches. That lead Roman Catholic Rudy to comment strongly on the subject. The Cuban government did issue an apology of sorts.  Those actions set the table for a Republican debate in Spanish in Miami.

There are about 46 million Hispanics in the U.S. according to recent estimates.  They make up about 15 percent of the total population and in some states, Florida being one of them.  In 2004, President Bush got about 42% of the Hispanic vote and it looked like things were getting rosy for Republicans and the Latino vote.  But a recent poll indicated that Hispanics may be going back to the 1999 trend and to some degree that erosion of support could be attributed to tough stances on illegal immigration.  

Or could it?  Polls don’t mean much to me because the number of Hispanics in America doesn’t say much about how many folks will go out in vote.  My theory is that if you have taken the time to go from immigrant status to citizen status and then taken that extra step to register to vote and actually to go vote, you are going to be more likely to support toughness on the border and enforcing the laws.  You have to vote for politicians to pay attention to you and Sunday night, Republican candidates stood their ground on immigration and were applauded for it by the audience in attendance.

Guiliani is right about Cuba: it is time for change and the Cuban community in Florida will strongly support that. Cuba will be a side issue in this race and it must be understood that while candidates have to navigate between the Republican base and Hispanic voters there is also a divide between voters of Cuban dissent and other Hispanics.  There is deep animosity between these two groups because of the special treatment that Cubans get in the immigration laws. There really is no way for an illegal immigrant in the country today to become legal under current law unless you are Cuban — if you don’t understand that division, you won’t understand how Hispanics vote.

How did they respond to the debate on Univision?  As you would expect in a population that large, there are many points of view.  “It was a lot of blah, blah, blah,” said Margarita Hill, a Sunrise resident and Cuban-American who has lived in the United States for 12 years. “The Republican candidates knew they had to come here because they had the support of the Cuban community, but there are a lot of other Hispanics here who they were not speaking to.”

But Colombian-born Jaime Zapata, 61, of Palm Beach Gardens, liked the debate on the Spanish-language station. “The fact that they came here helped us Hispanics understand what they really think about a lot of issues,” said Zapata, a U.S. citizen who agrees that border security has to come first to deal with the problem of illegal immigration.

“They were all right about immigration,” Zapata said. “You have to stop illegal immigration in order to fix the legal immigration system. … In general, the debate helped them.”

Whether your skin is black, white or brown, people want to see candidates that believe in what they say and can defend it.  All in all, the Univision debate helped the Republicans with Hispanic voters. With the venue being in Florida, where Giuliani has to win, it helps Giuliani the most.

Coming out of the debate, Giuliani stays strong and Huckabee slows down.  Thompson and Romney are still treading water but didn’t lose any ground.  Rudy needs to keep talking about injustice; it’s what he is best at.

Don’t believe anything you read or hear about one candidate or the other who doesn’t care how they do in the early primaries.  They all see the end in sight and know that in a few weeks there will only be a couple of them left standing. When you have the luxury of time ahead of you, platitudes are easy.  There isn’t much time left and the candidates are showing it. They want to win and know if they don’t, they’ll be home — for good – by Valentine’s Day.


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