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Opinion: The Republican 'Elefante' in the Room

Latinos are considered swing voters, and it's not a bad thing to have both parties courting us, says political scientist Victoria DeFrancesco Soto.

The election of the first Latino president (or vice president) is as close as ever, yet he/she could likely hail from the Republican Party. This is an uncomfortable truth for Latinos and trains the spotlight on a big elefante in the room.

Republican Latinos are seen as traitors or vendidos (sellouts). However, the majority of non-Republican Latinos willfully ignore the ideological diversity of our community.

We often hear that Democratic Latinos outnumber Republicans by two to one. This figure is misleading because it includes “leaners.” Leaners are Independents who are asked what party they would lean toward. Taking out the “leaner” Latinos, most Latinos, 44 percent, self-identify as Independent. The aggregate figures that are usually cited hide the truly Independent nature of Latinos. This independence is seen in instances such as the 2004 election when Republican President George W. Bush received over 40 percent of the Latino vote.

There’s a reason Latinos are considered swing voters. They have demonstrated that if they identify with a candidate, regardless of their partisanship they will support them.

"There's a reason Latinos are considered swing voters. And it's not a bad thing to have both parties courting us."

Let’s take Texas, the state with the second largest Latino population, in the 2014 gubernatorial race Republican Greg Abbott received 44 percent of the Latino vote. Two years earlier Ted Cruz was elected to the Senate with 35 percent of the Latinos vote. Keep in mind that in Texas neither Abbott nor Cruz ran a Latino targeted campaign.

And, these Tejanos or other Latinos that vote for Republicans are not voting against their interest. They are simply voting a different interest than Democratic Latinos.

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Just as Latinos vote for the GOP they also run and get elected as Republicans. Presidential front-runners Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are part of a larger trend of high profile GOP elected officials that reflects the diversity of Latinos. The majority of state and local level officials are still Democrats, but Republican elected officials have steadily been growing. As of 2014, there are more Republican than Democratic Latinos in the U.S. Senate and serving as governors.

The governors of New Mexico and Nevada, Susana Martinez and Brian Sandoval, respectively have some of the highest approval ratings of any governor—upwards of 60 percent.

Looking at Republican Latino officials, what jumps out is their diversity. Some are very conservative on all issues, such as Ted Cruz whose top priority is to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Others, such as Brian Sandoval who expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, are more moderate. The same range is seen with immigration.

There are Republican Latinos who support a path to legal status, such as Florida Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart and then there are those such as Ted Cruz who think immigration reform should only focus on enforcement. The Republican Party, like the Democratic Party is a big tent party.

The strength of the Cruz and Rubio campaigns forces Democratic Latinos to mind the ideological diversity within our community—it pushes us to be OK with agreeing to disagree. Disagreement is uncomfortable. But being uncomfortable is a good thing, it leads us to accept difference. And in the case of Latino partisanship it is not a bad idea to have different parties courting and representing us.

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