PHILADELPHIA — Hours before Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s choice for running mate, accepted the nomination as vice president, several of her Latino surrogates, including some who were potential running mates, were working the convention, advocating for the ticket.
Never mind that four Latinos – two Cabinet members, one former Cabinet member and a U.S. House leader - were passed over. They were reassuring Latino voters and others that Clinton made the right pick and that it’s okay for the nation’s largest ethnic group to have to wait a little longer for a Latino at the top of the ticket.
Latinos had come close this election season to those top spots, closer than ever before, and not just on the Democratic ticket. Sen. Ted Cruz, a Cuban American from Texas, was the first Latino to win a major party primary and Sen. Marco Rubio, a Cuban American from Florida, also was a major party candidate.
But for all the history being made at the top of the ticket, the second slot offered no barrier-breaking change.
Housing Secretary Julián Castro, Labor Secretary Tom Perez, U.S. House Rep. Xavier Becerra and former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar didn't make the final cut.
“Of course it’s a bit disappointing, anybody would say that,” Castro told NBC Latino during the Democratic National Convention. "But more than anything, I'm looking forward to the future."
“Many great Americans are talented … and it happens also they are Latino. That is a good thing,” said Becerra, chairman of the U.S. House Democratic Caucus. But in the end, “only one person can fill the slot.”
Kaine took the stage Wednesday to accept his party voters’ nomination and essentially interview for the job with television viewers. In other forums, he has made sure to use some of his Spanish that he learned from young Hondurans while he was teaching them welding and carpentry on a mission trip.
Using bits of it in his speech, he got the grammar right when he said Clinton was "lista" (prepared), making sure to use the feminine form of the word.
"I'm in love with him already," said Grace Pendland, a Latina from Houston who is a "super volunteer for Clinton." She said she knew nothing about Kaine but when Clinton announced him as her running mate, she "started doing the Wiki thing."
"He's so sincere. Not pretentious. He's authentic,"
One of his first interviews after Clinton officially announced her choice in a news conference was with Spanish language television news giant, Telemundo.
Ever since and even before Clinton picked him, there has been some warnings from within the community that, denied a Latino vp pick, the community won’t blindly accept Kaine solely on his Spanish language credentials or even on his Latin American missionary work.
The 58-year-old Kaine came of age professionally and ascended the political ladder amid structural and sanctioned racism in the country. Circumstances were different for him than for even the youngest of the Latinos who Hillary considered.
In the U.S. Congress, many Latinos are elected through heavily Hispanic districts and even now, only three Latinos are in the U.S. Senate. There are no Latinas.
Stella Rouse, an associate professor in the Department of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland and director of the Center for American Politics and Citizenship, said it’s not unreasonable to have expected a Latino on the ticket, given the size and influence of the Latino population, which is about 57 million in the U.S. But she said often too much emphasis is on the vice president and not other jobs in the administration, such as the Cabinet and high level policy staff in the White House.
Javier Palomarez, who as president and CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce endorsed Julián Castro for vice president, said he would have loved to have seen a Latino and “we didn’t mince our words” in letting Clinton know that as she considered the options.
“But this is less about a specific community and more about what a nation needs,” Palomarez said
In a conversation with Kaine Tuesday evening, Palomarez said he told Kaine “I’m a Julián guy." In response, Kaine offered to make his case about his work in the Latino community. Palomarez said he waved him off because he already knew Kaine's record. That record includes long involvement in the Senate Task Force for Corporate Diversity set up by Sen. Bob Menendez, Palomarez said
"I’m fine with Tim Kaine. I think he’s a great choice," Palomarez said.
Walter Tejada, a former Arlington, Va. county commissioner, said Kaine has been in tune with he community and was considered an “honorary Latino” among Latinos in Virginia because of his policies that benefited the community.
After this election cycle, a big question will be how long it will take before Latinos get a shot at the highest offices. After all, it took 240 years for a woman to be nominated president, 96 years after women won the right to vote. African Americans’ voting rights came after passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. For Latinos those full voting rights didn’t come until 1975.
Meanwhile, Hillary’s surrogates say the community is in good hands with her and Kaine.