Here’s a headline you are not likely to see from the mainstream media: over 60 percent of Republican Iowa caucus goers cast their votes for the two Hispanics and one African American seeking the Republican presidential nomination. This happened in a state that is overwhelmingly white with a miniscule Hispanic and African-American population.
And although we are months before all of the primary votes are cast, there is a one in three chance that either Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) or Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) could end up being the Republican presidential nominee. This would provide a sharp contrast to the two potential nominees for the Democratic Party: former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — both caucasian senior citizens. The fact is that for all the talk about being the party of diversity, as these pages have been reporting, the Democratic Party has managed to assemble its least diverse slate of presidential candidates in recent history.
Looking ahead, the Republican Party has a real opportunity to connect with Hispanic voters in a number of critical early primary states, including South Carolina and Nevada. The Palmetto State has seen a dramatic growth in its Hispanic population in recent years. In fact, according to the U.S. Census and the Pew Research Center, South Carolina had the second-fastest growing Hispanic population in the country from 2000–2011. With an estimated 5 percent of the population, and around half of that number eligible to vote, the Hispanic vote could make a difference in a tight race.
After South Carolina, the remaining Republican hopefuls head out west to Nevada, with an estimated 27 percent Hispanic population and a significant number of eligible voters. What’s more, Nevada is among a handful of swing states that could very well decide the election in November.
“At some point, elections are not about politics or policy; they are about math,” writes John Ralston, a journalist who has covered Nevada politics for nearly 25 years. “He or she who gets the most votes wins, and Hispanics arguably are the most potent rising bloc in both Nevada and American politics.”
Therein lies the opportunity for Republicans heading into the fall. The reality is that both Cruz and Rubio remain unknown to many Latino voters. This is changing, of course, as media coverage intensifies. But in a study conducted a few years ago by the well-respected Pew Hispanic Center, a scant percentage of Latinos polled identified Rubio as a national leader, but perhaps more revealing, a whopping 62 percent of those polled could not name a national leader.
For all the talk about being the party of diversity, the Democratic Party has managed to assemble its least diverse slate of presidential candidates in recent history
With an increasing prospect of a Latino U.S. president, it is entirely possible to see Republicans syphon off Hispanic votes from the Democratic Party on this basis alone. Even Cruz, who campaigned as an immigration hardliner when he ran for the Senate, may have picked up additional Hispanic support on his surname alone, according to an analysis by the Houston Chronicle.
Rubio meanwhile looks even better positioned to capture a bigger share of the Hispanic vote if he is the nominee, given his Spanish language fluency and his ability to talk to Latino voters directly in Spanish language media interviews. That may have helped him capture around 55 percent of the Latino electorate in his successful 2010 senate race.
Much remains and anything can change in the nominating process, but Republicans have much to be proud of heading into a pivotal presidential election. After years of building an infrastructure to reach out to more minorities and cultivating a talent base that has seen the rise of a diverse and qualified pool of candidates, including Rubio, Cruz and Dr. Ben Carson, the results from the Iowa caucus reveal that the Republican electorate are wide open to making a minority their presidential nominee.
Israel Ortega is a Senior Writer for Opportunity Lives. You can follow him on Twitter @IzzyOrtega.