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HOUSTON –– After a narrowly won second place in Nevada, Marco Rubio moved on to Texas where he was confronted in the majority minority state by a supporter who wanted to know he'd win Latino conservative voters.
“Senador, estás en Houston. ¿Como vas a ganar el voto Latino? (Senator, you are in Houston. How are you going to win the Latino vote?),” supporter Mario Ayala, 39, shouted during Rubio’s speech.
Rubio didn’t answer right away, responding, “Let me finish my speech.” But he did get to the question later, as promised.
“I would like to win the vote of the Americans,” Rubio said. “I’m deeply proud of my heritage, I talk about it all the time. I’m proud of my heritage, but my heritage is rooted deeply in the American Dream.”
He went on then to describe his upbringing, his parents’ struggle and how their hard worked helped him and his family ascend economically.
Rubio and Cruz, both of Cuban descent, have the potential to be the first Hispanic in the White House.
But they don’t talk a lot about the Latino vote or community, although they both often discuss their upbringing as children of Cuban refugees.
Cruz’s stand on immigration, essentially to use law enforcement to force those in the country illegally to leave has earned him public rebuke from a group of GOP Hispanic leaders.
Rubio has become more favored among that group since the departure of Jeb Bush. But he also has been criticized for abandoning the Gang of Eight comprehensive immigration reform Senate bill he helped passed and for encouraging the House not to conference on it.
Both are promising to repeal every "unconstitutional" executive order issued by Barack Obama. Obama used executive action to shield from deportation and give permission to work to hundreds of thousands of young immigrants illegally here. He tried to expand that to millions of more immigrants but that action has been tied up in court.
Some have questioned whether Cruz and Rubio avoid talking about themselves as Latinos to avoid angering conservative white voters. But in the last GOP debate, Cruz and Rubio tangled over whether Cruz spoke Spanish.
Ayala, an evangelical minister, said he’s “concerned the two Latino conservative candidates are not connecting to the root of the Latino voter.”
“They have it in their skin. They have it there,” Ayala said “It’s 11 million deep that we’re going to vote and define this election and I’m afraid they are not reaching to the conservative values of the Republican Party that connect to the Latino.”
In 2012, 11 million Latinos voted, with the overwhelming majority supporting President Barack Obama. The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), projected 13.1 million Latinos will cast votes in the general election.
Rather than reach out to Latinos, Cruz and Rubio are “always standoffish” and “always afraid of the whole immigration issue,” said Ayala who is back Rubio and is an evangelical minister.
“They are afraid they can lose the Anglo vote if they sway too much to the Latino. But without the Latino vote they are going to lose against Hillary,” he said.
Clinton won heavy support, 66 percent, of the Latino vote in Texas in the 2008 primary.
Texas is 39 percent Latino, with about 4.8 million eligible voter who are Hispanics. About 28 percent of all of Texas' eligible voters are Latino, according to Pew Research Center.
Ayala and his wife Carmen Ayala, 43, weren’t satisfied with Rubio’s response, saying they wanted more from him and not just for him to use Spanish in his speeches.
“We already know he’s proud of his roots,” Carmen Ayala said. “He needs to target the community. We belong to a community here. We have a lot of Hispanics in our church … We want to be able to say to them vote for Rubio.”