Is Rubio the antidote?
“Honestly, I would consider him because he’s Hispanic,” said Julio Sanchez, 19, a business marketing major at the University of Texas at El Paso. “I could always see myself voting Republican. The reason I’m Democrat is that’s the way I was raised.”
“It’s ingrained in us,” said Gabriel Lira, 24, who was sitting at a table in the same coffee shop as Sanchez. “Growing up, it was ’Republicans rich, Democrats help the middle class.’ I’m interested in having a Hispanic president, but if he’s going to be against everything I want, obviously I’m not going to vote for him.”
Manuel Alvarez, 22, of Lordsburg, N.M., said he first voted for Obama because he could relate to him as a minority. “With a Hispanic on the ballot, I think a lot of people may look at it as, ’Hey, it’s our turn, let’s show them who we really are.’ ” But he too said Republicans would have to make major changes, starting with accepting gays and fixing immigration.
Rubio ran for the Senate in 2010 as a tough-on-immigration candidate. He even opposed the Dream Act, which would help immigrants brought to the United States as children achieve citizenship.
Now Rubio is pushing comprehensive reform that would provide a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented residents, and a faster pace for so-called Dreamers.
“The shift is crucial for Rubio to have any ability to attract votes. There’s no question it was a political consideration,” said Matt Barreto, director of Latino Decisions, an independent polling firm. “He would have had a huge problem if he had not come on board. He would have been attacked as someone who doesn’t support the community.”
With immigration reform facing hurdles in Congress, the rewards are still out of reach. But consider that 44 percent of Hispanics, including 43 percent who voted for Obama, said they would be more likely to support a GOP candidate who advocated for legislation that includes a path to citizenship, according to a new Latino Decisions poll.
The hope, and challenge, is to turn that into something tangible. Rubio recognizes the limitations of biography.
“Do I think ethnicity is helpful in the ability to identify in your personal story? I’m sure that’s always a factor,” he said in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times. “But that doesn’t mean they are going to vote for someone who stands for things they don’t agree on or believe is bad for their future. The way I view our challenge is we have to show people this is what we stand for. That’s not a one week, one month or a one-year project. That’s an ongoing endeavor.”