Mitt Romney isn’t winning over Latinos with Paul Ryan as VP pick
Ryan’s selection has prompted questions whether Romney has “given up” on attracting Latino voters.
Simmering doubts about Mitt Romney’s desire to appeal to Latino voters arose again this weekend after the presumptive GOP presidential nominee selected Rep. Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate.
Most of the backlash against the Ryan pick has centered on his budget plan, specifically its efforts to slash entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and food stamps in order to cut the federal budget deficit. While the sweeping budget proposal enjoys overwhelming support amongst conservatives, the programs it cuts are popular among many Latinos who rely on them.
Republicans were also forced to do damage control after it was revealed that during his early days in Congress, Ryan voted against the U.S. embargo of Cuba, a policy that’s strongly backed by Cuban-American voters in South Florida who lean GOP.
Under Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity” budget blueprint, Medicare — the healthcare program for seniors — would fundamentally change for people who are now under the age of 55. Instead of receiving direct benefits, future retirees when they reach age 65 would choose either Medicare or a private insurance plan and then would receive subsidies to help pay for the coverage. For Medicaid — health insurance for the poor — and food stamps, Ryan’s plan would block-grant funds to the states, a move designed to save costs.
The contentious plan would aim to cut $5.8 trillion over 10 years in federal spending, including $735 billion from Medicaid over that time frame.
Latino experts and media outlets panned Romney’s pick of Ryan, saying that the congressman’s budget plan would have an adverse effect on Latinos, who disproportionately rely on Medicaid and food stamps and with an overwhelmingly-young population, could feel the brunt of the changes to Medicare in the future.
“What bad news for those who believe that Latinos benefit when both parties strive to win their vote,” the editorial board of La Opinión, the nation’s largest Spanish-language daily, wrote Monday. “The selection of a one of the most extreme, polarizing and obstructionist figures in the Congress does not help to attract the vote of minorities or moderates.”
Ryan’s economic vision remains unpopular with majorities of Latino voters, a sign that his presence on the ticket won’t address Romney’s problems with that growing segment of the electorate in key battleground states.
While Ryan himself remains relatively unknown among Latino voters, according to analysis from the polling firm Latino Decisions, 73 percent are opposed to reducing Medicare spending to bring down the debt while only 22 support it, according to a Oct. 2011 survey.
The pick comes as Romney has thus far failed to convince enough Latinos to support his candidacy. He trails Obama by nearly 44 percentage points among Latino voters nationwide, according to our analysis. And if the election were held today, he would receive the lowest share of the “Latino vote” of any GOP nominee since 1996.
That’s something Romney can ill afford, since Latinos now make up a much larger part of the electorate than they did 16 years ago. Over 12 million are expected vote in November, with rapidly-growing communities in competitive states, such Florida, Nevada, and Colorado.
Watch a panel on Univision’s “Al Punto” debate Romney’s selection of Ryan (in Spanish):
Latino Republicans said that Ryan’s vision could appeal to all Americans.
“The Romney-Ryan ticket is going to win in November because it offers the American people visionary leadership to recapture the free enterprise spirit that has empowered countless Americans to build businesses from scratch and live the American dream,” said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
Political observers believe Ryan could appeal to crossover voters with his pleas for a civil debate on policy while helping solidify conservative support around Romney. But the one segment of the Latino electorate that’s predisposed to back the GOP ticket — Cuban-Americans in South Florida — has raised concerns about Ryan’s past opposition to the Cuba embargo.
The Miami Herald’s revelation of Ryan’s votes against the embargo in 2001 and 2004 touched a nerve, especially because South Florida’s own Rubio wasn’t chosen as the nominee despite heavy consideration.
“How could you pass over Marco and pick someone who’s anti-embargo?” an unnamed Cuban GOP official told the Herald. “This might snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.”
Ryan’s position evolved over the years and eventually he voted to oppose an effort to ease the embargo in 2007. But Ryan still seems to have lingering doubts about its effectiveness.
“If we’re going to have free trade with China, why not Cuba?” Ryan told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel in 2008.
Democrats pounced on the remark. Carlos Odio, a former Obama aide, said on Twitter:
Romney must really want to lose Florida: Paul Ryan voted three times against the Cuba embargo. @marcacaputo— carlosodio (@carlosodio) August 11, 2012
Florida’s Cuban population is not monolithic and younger Cuban-Americans are more likely to support lifting the embargo, as NPR notes. The Atlantic even called Ryan’s past stance against it bold in comparison to his budget plan, which has received similar accolades from the political press.
And well-known Cuban-American GOP lawmakers have rushed to Ryan’s defense.
“I don’t know those words, but I know his record. And it is strong,” Lincoln Diaz-Balart, a former Congressman and prominent voice in the exile community, told the Herald.
“To his credit, Ryan’s position has evolved over the years, as he learned of the brutal realities of the Castro brothers,” the website Capitol Hill Cubans wrote Saturday.
But the fact remains that younger Cuban-American voters are more likely to support President Obama and the older generation, which supports the embargo, are generally staunch Republicans. In sum, Ryan’s past positions could put him in hot water with a core constituency in a key battleground state.
And that’s not to mention the ticket’s position on immigration, a more prescient issue for the majority Mexican-American voters as well as Central Americans. Ryan is no firebrand on the immigration issue, but both Romney and Ryan oppose the DREAM Act, which is overwhelmingly popular among Latino voters. And Ryan has taken some tough votes on immigration during his time in Congress, including support for a controversial 2005 bill that would have made immigration violations felonies, among other restrictions.
There has also been some disappointment that Romney did not choose one of the GOP’s up-and-coming Latino elected officials to serve on his ticket, such as Rubio, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, or Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval.
“If it were Rubio, Martinez or Sandoval he might have gotten the bump, if that was a demographic they wanted to capitalize,” Julio Ricardo Varela of the popular website Latino Rebels told Voxxi. “I think a lot of U.S. Latino voters are still kind of voting with their hearts, and it’s a disappointing choice.”
But simply putting a Latino on the ballot was never a surefire way to attract Latinos, or a reason to pick a running mate, political observers say.
“Trying to appeal to a particular constituency is an added bonus but should not be the reason to pick a running mate,” Florida-based GOP strategist Ana Navarro, who is close with Rubio, told Univision News last month. “Marco would help some with the Hispanic vote but Romney needs to pick someone who is best fit for him and for the administration he envisions running.”
Still, to fan the flames, multiple Democrats pointed out that an anonymous Romney adviser told Politico that the candidate’s choice eschewed concern for problems, such as his poor position among Latino voters, in order to choose someone who could drive home his economic agenda.
“Mitt isn’t thinking about Ohio or the Hispanic vote,” the adviser said. “He’s thinking: ‘I’m gonna be president. Who’s going to help me succeed?’”
(Photo: Flickr, Tobyotter)