Immigration, the New Congress, and the Latino Vote30 Dec 2010
Although the new Congress has yet to be sworn in, the 2012 presidential election is already on the minds of political strategists in both parties. At the moment, there is still time for GOP potential challengers to President Obama to test the waters, make their preliminary rounds in some key states, and gauge the level of support for their version of how things ought to be. It’s a time for challengers to make friends, on an industrial scale; to line up the foot soldiers needed to get them successfully through a long and arduous presidential campaign.
One might think this was a time to mend fences with potential allies, not just with the party faithful. This is particularly true with reference to the growing Latino electorate, especially in key states of the American south and southwest. It might be reasonable for them to expect some favorable attention from GOP presidential hopefuls, yet several of the party’s potential candidates – including Texas Governor Rick Perry, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, and South Dakota Senator John Thune have all decided to sit out a major conference of the Hispanic Leadership Network in Miami this January. (See Is GOP in Danger from Ignoring Latinos? by Stephanie Condon, CBS News, Political Hotsheet, 23.Dec.2010.)
According to Politico.com, Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich – who is said to be weighing a White House bid – is “‘amenable’ to attending but hasn’t committed yet,” according to a spokesman. (See 2010 Hopefuls to Skip Hispanic Forum, by Carrie Budoff Brown, Politico.com, 23.Dec.2010.) Politico.com notes that several other GOP luminaries, such as former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, former Senator Norm Coleman, and former Florida Governor, Jeb Bush, all plan to attend, along with Minnesota Governor and potential presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty.
Trend-watchers may wish to note that the Hispanic Leadership Network event is “backed by Republicans connected to the Bushes, who are well-respected in the Latino community,” according to Politico.com. That, in fact, may be one of Jeb Bush’s greatest assets, should he choose to toss his hat in the ring for 2012, as some have suggested he might. (See Here Comes Jeb, by Stewart J. Lawrence, Counterpunch, 22.Dec.2010.) He would be among the leading GOP contenders with credibility in the growing Hispanic electorate, a constituency the Republicans will want on their side in the next election.
On the other hand, Jeb Bush’s star may dim if other leading lights of the GOP start to aggressively woo Latino voters – not with slogans, but with legislative accomplishments. After riding to victory last November on a platform cobbled together from economic discontent and anti-immigrant anger, the GOP leadership may decide it’s time to revisit the bipartisan immigration reform plans of the last two Congresses; but with many in the party base still angry about illegal immigration, wooing Latino voters may turn out to be more complicated than that. Stay tuned.