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Opinion: Neither Hillary Nor Jeb Will Be Our First Latino President

by Victoria DeFrancesco Soto /  / Updated 
Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton
Jeb Bush and Hillary ClintonAP; Getty Images

AUSTIN, TX -- Bill Clinton was referred to as the first Black president - until President Barack Obama was elected.

Conventional wisdom has pretty much guaranteed us that we will see the first Latino President with Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush as the 2016 front-runners.

But as with many things, conventional wisdom is often wrong.

The idea of Hillary Clinton as the first Latina president arose in 2008 when she dominated the Latino vote in the primaries. In California and Texas - the states which account for half of the country’s Latinos - Clinton trounced Obama, receiving more than twice as many Latino votes.

Writer and Latino public intellectual Richard Rodriguez has made reference to Hillary Clinton as the first Latina in chief pointing to her electoral heft in 2008. Add to that some polling numbers and it’s not hard to see why some see Clinton as one of the familia. In a 2013 poll Latino Decisions found that Hillary Clinton’s favorability among likely Hispanic voters was 73 percent. And in a head-to-head match up with Marco Rubio, Clinton would beat him 66 to 23 percent among Latinos.

Beyond the poll numbers, some could argue Hillary Clinton is Latina by association. Her political operation is Latina driven, with Amanda Renteria at the helm as her National Political Director. And while their parting was not so sweet, Clinton’s 2008 campaign manager was also Latina, Patti Solis Doyle.

On some economic and foreign policy issues, Hillary and the Democrats have the advantage among Latinos, as Pew Research shows. But most importantly, on immigration, which has become a political litmus test in showing solidarity with the Hispanic community, Hillary Clinton is as Latina as they come.

But then there’s Jeb.

The cover of the National Journal recently ran a story of how Jeb Bush would be our first Cuban-American President, which yes, would translate into him being the first Latino President.

Jeb Bush has been a consistent advocate of immigration reform. Exactly how he would go about providing relief to over 11 million undocumented immigrants has been murky; he has supported a path to citizenship but has also said there is not enough political will for it, so he has also talked of earned legal status. Compared to Hillary Clinton’s bold pledge to not stop short of a pathway to citizenship, Jeb’s immigration chops may look meek to some immigration reform supporters. But everything in life is relative and his consistent support for immigration reform stands in stark contrast to the anti-immigrant bent his party has taken in the last couple of years.

Jeb’s Latinidad is mainly cultural; he is Latino by marriage. His wife of over 40 years, Columba Garnica Gallo was born and raised in Mexico. Bush brought up his family in Miami, a city that is as Latino as any Latin American metropolis, and speaks as good or if not better Spanish than anyone in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

His recent campaign launch, which took place at Miami-Dade Community College, further reinforced his Hispanic sensibilities and focus. And Jeb's campaign manager, in charge of running the show for the next 17 months is Danny Diaz, a long-time Latino GOP strategist.

So to be sure, Hillary and Jeb are well associated with Latinos and Latino issues. But here's the thing - they are not Latino. Regardless of Clinton’s Latino political bona fides and popularity in the electorate or Bush’s cultural and familial Latininad, neither is Latina/o.

This seemingly blatant fact is highlighted by the candidacies of two Latinos, Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. Depending on your political persuasion you may call them any number of things, but one label both Republicans and Democrats can agree on they are Latino.

We may also see additional Latinos as vice-presidential candidates. The political rumor mill certain has: Democrat Julian Castro, currently HUD Secretary, and New Mexico's Republican Governor Susana Martinez are both cited as top contenders for the 2016 veep slots.

The simple fact is that simply because a candidate is popular with or close to Latinos does not give them an honorary stamp of Latinidad.

The first Latino President must be Latino.

The first Latino president may get a minority of the Latino vote and in fact may not share the policy views of a majority of the the nation's Hispanics. Given the current political context, this just may be the case.

Latinos are a diverse electorate and becoming more so by the day. That there are prominent Latino political voices on both sides of the aisle points to a maturation of the community. The political growth of Latinos means that no “one” Latino speaks for all, just like no single white or black candidate speaks for their respective groups.

The first Latino president may not speak for the majority of Hispanics. But it is undeniable that this candidate would be a history-making first, and neither Clinton nor Bush would be that "first."

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