Hispanic Leaders Break With Party Conservatives, Line Up With Bush

by Suzanne Gamboa /  / Updated 
Image: Republican U.S. presidential candidate and former Florida Governor Bush formally announces campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination during kickoff rally in Miami
Republican U.S. presidential candidate and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush formally announces his campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination during a kickoff rally in Miami, Florida on June 15.JOE SKIPPER / Reuters

Daniel Diaz-Leyva, a Miami lawyer who cofounded a political action committee with Jeb Bush Jr., sees Jeb Bush the political candidate as a disruptor and expects it's only a matter of time before other voters see him the same way.

Diaz-Leyva, 34, is one of 228 Hispanics in 20 states who will be backing Bush’s presidential candidacy as members of his Hispanic Leadership Committee; more Latino backers will be announced subsequently. The campaign announced some of those names Thursday.

“This wasn’t a rubber stamp governor. He wasn’t a rubber stamp leader. He challenged the status quo. He was a disruptor. He disrupted and course corrected in a lot of instances and on a lot of issues,” said Diaz-Leyva.

That’s a view that right now isn’t one held among a large enough share of Republicans to make Bush a frontrunner in the primaries. But then, this list is aimed at not only winning the primaries, but also making it through the general election.

The list of high-profile Republican Hispanics that Jeb Bush has lined up demonstrates a divergence among many Latino Republicans and the party’s conservatives, who have clustered around Trump and Carson.

In the most recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, fellow Republicans Donald Trump and Ben Carson were neck-and-neck leaders, followed by a tie for second between Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a Bush protégée, and Carly Fiorina. Bush followed those two. His showing also has been lackluster in other recent polls that have been capturing a primary electorate that seems favorable to outsiders.

The list of high-profile Republican Hispanics Jeb Bush has lined up demonstrates a divergence among many Latino Republicans and the party’s conservatives who have clustered around Trump and Carson.

“To me it does not matter whether (Bush's) in the polls or not. That’s not indicative of his leadership,” Diaz-Leyva said.

“I believe he is a good reflection of my values and my principles as a Republican. He leads on issues. He’s a disruptor, an innovator … Washington is in need of that leadership,” Diaz-Leyva said.

Luis Fraga, politics professor at the University of Notre Dame, said the list of Republican Latino influentials is a way for Bush to show he's a different sort of Republican "who wants to distinguish himself from what is the accepted move to criticize Latinos and Latino immigrants as has been done by a number of Republican candidates."

"I think Bush, like his brother before him wants to show his relationship with the Latino community is part of how he wants all voters to understand him," Fraga said. "It's not just an attempt to get the Latino vote. I think he wants to show he's a different type of Republican and in that way enahnce his standing by showing he can build a national constituency."

Image: Jeb Bush
Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, center, rear, poses for a selfie with students during a town hall at La Progresiva Presbyterian School, Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)Lynne Sladky / AP

Izzy Santa, a former Republican Party spokeswoman, said Bush's school choice and education achievements are what earned her vote and backing.

"He hasn't changed his positions throughout this whole entire primary. He has not gone to the extreme right to prove one thing or another to the voters," she said.

Bush has dealt with some backlash from candidates and some for speaking Spanish on the campaign trail, his immigration reform support and his Mexican-born wife and Mexican-American children.

But those are the very things that have helped him line up support from so many Hispanics in the GOP political arena.

“I think Jeb is a Latino by choice, which to me means a lot,” said Sharon Castillo, who handled Hispanic communications for the Mitt Romney campaign. “He understands us. He speaks our language. He’s completely immersed in our culture. It’s not something foreign to him. It comes naturally to him.”

That’s a view that many of his Latino supporters hold, even though there are two Latinos vying for the nomination as well – Rubio and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

Rosario Marin, former Treasurer under George W. Bush, said she has a lot of respect for Rubio and does not question his Latino identity.

But she said, Bush “is a known quantity. He has known ties, not just to the Cuban community in Florida, but also with Mexican-Americans. Columba (Bush’s wife) is a known quantity. They were in Venezuela for a while so there’s that other connection with South Americans.”

The field of supporters may not help in selling Bush as a change from the status quo. Many are people who were with him in politics when he was governor of Florida or were appointees or were in the administration or involved in the campaign of his brother, former President George W. Bush or his father former President George H.W. Bush.

Jessica Lavariega-Monforti, director and chair of political science at Pace University in New York, described the list of Bush's Hispanic leadership committee as an “accumulation of two presidencies and two governorships.”

“These are political operatives and people who have been doing campaigning for a long time,” Lavariega-Monforti said. “It’s not surprising they are backing and like Bush.”

But she said Bush is still regarded as a candidate who will survive the primaries at a time when the GOP nomination race is being seen as a side show.

The political and campaign experience of many of the Hispanic supporters will be key in helping him push past the initial lackluster months of the campaign, said Marin, who said she is involved in her sixth presidential campaign.

"Campaigns are not decided in the first few months. Most of us recognize this is a long trek," says former Treasurer Rosario Marín.

“These are people (on the list) who have been around,” she said. “We know what campaigns are about. We know the campaigns are not decided in the first three months. Most of us recognize this is a long trek.”

In elections, Republicans can expect to usually win about 20 percent to 25 percent of the Latino vote, but need to get 10 percent to 15 percent more to combine with their overwhelming white vote and win a general election, Fraga said. Bush's long list of prominent influential Latinos says "I can be competitive" even in states where there are large Latino populations," Fraga said. But being seen as sympathetic to Latinos and Latino immigrants makes his competitiveness in the primaries more challenging.

Diaz-Leyva said it’s not unusual to see a migration toward outsiders. It is happening globally – the leftist populist in Latin America, the leftist, grassroots Podemos party in Spain, Alexander Tsipras, Greece’s left-wing prime minister, he said.

“You have this anti-politician fervor around the world. Today, in the U.S., people feel that Washington is broken and Congress is not getting the job done. I felt it when I went door-to-door (in a Florida state House campaign). One of the first questions people asked me was whether I’m currently serving in office.”

But when “all this noise starts to whittle away … people are looking for true leadership,” he said. Bush’s backing from so many Hispanics “is going to be a huge part of our success.”

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