On Super Tuesday, Republican Latinos Still Searching
Cristina Espinosa has a problem. A dyed-in-the-wool Republican, she longs to see President Barack Obama ousted from the White House.
"How horrible the Obama administration has been, particularly with Mexican-Americans and Mexican immigrants. His policy is nothing short of ethnic cleansing," Espinosa told The Huffington Post. "He's totally betrayed Latinos."
But as Republicans in 10 states cast their ballots on Super Tuesday in the biggest single-day stakes of the primary season, Espinosa -- a Somos Republicanos member in metropolitan Atlanta -- confronts a challenge shared by many of the GOP's Latino faithful.
"We face a conundrum because, unfortunately, there's nowhere to go," she said. "I think in principle some of the Republicans have taken a very good stance to suggest there is going to be a campaign to write in Ronald Reagan."
Espinosa, like many Hispanics, has been put off by harsh immigration rhetoric from the Republican candidates, and left with no clear choice for the upcoming election. A Latin Insights and Fox News Latino poll released Monday underscored the sinking support for the GOP field.
The poll said four out of five Hispanics who voted for Obama in 2008 would do so again. But of those who voted for Republican candidate Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), 40 percent said they would now vote for Obama, compared to 38 percent for Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich, and 34 percent for Rick Santorum.
The perception that the party has presented no preferred candidate for the presidency has caused soul-searching for some Latino voters, and has drained the Latino electoral energy from what has become a pitched battle for the presidency.
"They're a little disillusioned with all of the candidates right now," Jaime Umana, executive director of the Athens Latino Center for Education and Services in Athens, Ga., told The Huffington Post. "The current president made many promises and didn't keep them. But of the [GOP's] candidates, none of them wants to support Hispanics."
Republican Latinos are particularly afflicted. Many see the GOP candidates' hard-line immigration language on the campaign trail as a thinly veiled anti-Hispanic sentiment, forcing them to consider what they describe as holding their noses and voting for Obama.
"More and more people I know [who] are Republicans have come to me and said in secret, like they were confessing, 'I'm voting for Obama.' It's like I was a priest," Fabian Bedne, a newly elected Democratic councilman in Nashville, Tenn., told The Huffington Post. "I think there are Hispanics who want to be -- would love to be -- Republicans, but they can't be because the rhetoric they're getting from the conservative side excludes them."
Some, like DeeDee Garcia Blase, have turned their backs on the party that they feel has turned on them. Garcia Blase, who describes herself as a 20-year "rah-rah" Republican, split with the party and became an independent, founding the National Tequila Party Movement in reaction to the Tea Party's growing influence within the GOP.
"They're not ready to do outreach with the Latino community," Blase told The Huffington Post. "They want, 'Si, señor' types."
The majority of Republican Latinos in Florida -- a state with 2.1 million Latino voters -- voted for former Massachusetts Gov. Romney, but former House Speaker Gingrich (R-Ga.) may have the immigration stance least at odds with Hispanics. Of all the candidates, he alone has publicly supported a path to legality for undocumented immigrants who have been in the country for a number of years.
And, despite polls consistently showing Latinos ranking jobs and the economy above immigration as a priority, the tone of campaign speeches still has an effect.
"Immigration may not be the top issue," Bob Quasius, the founder of Cafe Con Leche Republicans, told The Huffington Post, "but the way a candidate talks about it affects [Latinos'] perception."
In Oklahoma, where former Sen. Santorum (R-Pa.) is leading in polls heading into Tuesday's election, Alfredo Melchor, another Somos Republicanos member suffering with the disaffection he feels over the GOP candidates' immigration stances, said many Latinos feel left out -- talked about, but not with.
"There's definitely a feeling in the community of being ignored," Melchor told The Huffington Post. "It's going to be very difficult for them to win with such a hard-line stance."
The immigration discussion has largely slipped to the sidelines since the Florida primary Jan. 31. But it may have had unintended consequences on the electorate, reminiscent of the anti-Republican backlash that followed the passage of Proposition 187 in California in 1994 -- consequences that may play out in ways that will only be fully felt on Election Day. Proposition 187 was an anti-illegal immigration ballot initiative passed by a large majority and favored by Republican Gov. Pete Wilson. In reaction, a flood of Latinos registered to vote. A federal court later declared the proposition unconstitutional, but since its passage, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is the only Republican to win a California gubernatorial or senatorial election.
Now, Umana of the Athens, Ga., Latino center noted, he is seeing an increase in the number of Hispanics applying for citizenship.
"We offer citizenship services," Umana said, "and many people are becoming citizens so that they can vote."