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Opinion: Can A Female Democrat Afford a Latino Vice President?

by Stephen A. Nuño /
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro briefs reporters on the progress of long-term disaster recovery efforts 10 years after Hurricane Katrina on August 18, 2015 MANDEL NGAN / AFP - Getty Images

The Bernie victory in Michigan that shocked the world could have far greater consequences for Latino representation than previously imagined. Despite being the clear liberal candidate between himself and Hillary Clinton, Bernie did resoundingly well with an important demographic, white men. If Hillary Clinton wins the Democratic nomination, this could have resounding implications for the possibility of a Clinton-Castro ticket, long touted by many Latinos.

Up until now, much of the buzz surrounding Housing Sec. Julián Castro focused on her need to appeal to Hispanic voters. The surprising performance by Marco Rubio in Iowa suggested that independent or Republican-leaning Latino voters could be in danger of being lured by someone like Rubio who could campaign directly to Hispanics, making Castro a tempting choice to counter that appeal. Clinton’s famous “firewall” in the Southwest depends on Latino voters, hence Julián Castro - so the argument goes - would also help shore up her draw among Latino voters in an election against Donald Trump.

But in Michigan's victory, exit polls revealed an important weakness in Hillary Clinton. Sanders won by an alarmingly wide deficit among white men voters in Michigan, 63 percent to 36 percent. In no other state does Clinton lose by such a wide margin to white men. In Georgia, Hillary loses to white men 51 percent to 48 percent. In Virginia, she loses 50 percent to 48 percent, and in Texas she breaks even among white men, 49 percent to 49 percent.

This was the Clinton campaign’s first real test in a large “rust belt state”, many of which have been wracked by diminished manufacturing jobs and union-based jobs that once provided stability to many of these men in states like Michigan. With Ohio and Illinois coming up next, one wonders if Michigan was an anomaly or a sign of more to come.

So the issue then becomes, if she is able to hold onto her lead throughout the primaries, whether Clinton would need to name a vice presidential choice that would help her hold the line with working-class white men voters for her camp. In the case of Julián Castro, he is a Latino politician from Texas with an elite academic pedigree - he's a graduate of Stanford and Harvard. The question is whether working-class white men suffering from their loss of status in a rust-best state will relate to a Latino politician like Julián Castro, despite his modest upbringing and his American success story of advancement through education and hard work.

Clinton may have to look elsewhere for such an appeal, possibly a Midwestern governor or senator who would be more "relatable" to this demographic, and who could cross over into similar territory in the Northeast, such as Pennsylvania. Joe Biden provided such an appeal for Barack Obama, the first real urban president who did not campaign on the manly legacy of agrarian Americana as did the peanut farmer from Georgia (Carter), the cowboy from California (Reagan), or the kid from a town called Hope (Clinton).

There is the iconic picture of George Bush in his beaten up pickup truck - effective imagery that was appealing to a white, working-class sense of masculinity. The question is where might this come from among the Democrats if Hillary secures the nomination. While Latinos would certainly respond to a Julián Castro as a vice presidential candidate, Hillary may ultimately need to go in another direction.

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