A Latino emerged the victor out of last night’s Iowa Caucus, but it isn’t the Latino you are thinking about. Ted Cruz is the first candidate of Cuban descent to win in Iowa, and Marco Rubio certainly outplayed his expectations; both will go on while the novelty of a billionaire like Donald Trump “who tells it like it is” will continue to fade. But the real winner last night was Julián Castro.
As the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the only viable Latino Democrat to emerge within the Democrat’s field, the dual victories of candidates of Hispanic descent in the Republican Party makes Julián Castro a renewed commodity of great importance to the Democrats.
And as Marco Rubio’s stock rises, and it will after Monday night, Hillary Clinton will be faced with the dilemma of reaching out to Latinos in the face of GOP ticket that will be able to reach out to them in Spanish. While the Latino vote alone cannot necessarily bring Hillary Clinton a victory, it is imperative that her ticket do two things in order to win in November.
First, the Democrats must hold the line on Latino voters. A Republican candidate who can appeal to Latinos in Spanish will be difficult to resist for many Latino independents and even Democrats. Research by Melissa Michelson and Lisa Garcia-Bedolla has shown that even indirect appeals, such as phone banking and post cards, are an effective tool for getting Latinos out to vote. Rubio would legitimize the use of Spanish for the GOP, ie. make it more palatable for Republicans as an outreach tool.
As Marco Rubio’s stock rises, and it will after tonight, Hillary Clinton will be faced with the dilemma of reaching out to Latinos in the face of GOP ticket that will be able to reach out to them in Spanish.
Language also remains an important obstacle to communicating with Latinos. According to the American National Election Studies poll, only 16 percent of Hispanics were contacted by political campaigns, as opposed to 26 percent of blacks and 49 percent of whites. An important reason for this can be found in a recent Pew Research Center study. Pew Research reported that 25 percent of Hispanics speak "only English", and 30 percent of Latinos speak both English and Spanish, while 38 percent speak primarily in Spanish. In a study by Costas Panagopoulos and Don Green, they found that Spanish language radio was an effective tool at reaching out to Hispanics. The language diversity of Latinos would make a genuine bilingual approach to voter outreach a new tool for the GOP.
In fact, it's already been brought up that Julián Castro does not speak fluent Spanish, even though this is the case with so many U.S. Latinos. Let's remember that even having a Spanish accent could prove to be a liability. In California, for instance, it was illegal to speak Spanish in schools until Governor Ronald Reagan repealed the law in 1967.
Beyond language, while it's important for Democrats to hold the line on Latinos, it is vital for them to hold the line on moderate and progressive white voters. Claiming to be a party of diversity has been hard enough over the last six months with three white candidates for the Democrat ticket- Hillary, Bernie and Martin O’Malley.
Julián Castro not only serves as a reminder of the nuances of Latino identity; as a graduate of Harvard and Stanford Universities, he represents hope through education and hard work. This is an important component of the appeal Democrats have on the left side of the spectrum and Castro would personify that for the party.
As the campaigns unfold, it is clear that the strongest national coalition for a Democratic victory has been a coherent strategy of minorities, progressive whites and some centrist or moderate voters. A Rubio victory, in particular, would put that coalition in danger. A young Julián Castro that embodies the aspirations of the Latino community is the only real answer Democrats have right now to shore up their defense against the young Cuban conservatives of the GOP.
Stephen A. Nuño is an Associate Professor in the Department of Politics and International Affairs at Northern Arizona University.