Why Susana Martinez was the best Latino speaker yet at RNC
‘Y, en America todo es posible,’
TAMPA, Fla. — Five Latino officials have spoken in prime time here at the Republican National Convention and none has been better than New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez.
Appearing after Condoleezza Rice and before vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, Martinez was in danger of becoming overshadowed. But she was more than able to hold her own.
A Mexican-American raised in the American Southwest, Martinez’s biography fits the majority of the Latino community in the United States. And she was able to tell her personal story with a sense of familiarity that few other in the Republican Party can.
Martinez, the nation’s first Latina governor, spoke of growing up in a hardscrabble, working-class border city of El Paso, Texas and climbing her way through the political system to become New Mexico’s chief executive.
“Growing up, I never imagined a girl from a border town could one day become a governor. But this is America. ‘Y, en America todo es posible,’” she said.
To underscore her humble roots, she told the story of her time working at her family’s security company guarding the parking lot of a Catholic Church on bingo nights.
“I carried a Smith and Wesson .357 Magnum — that gun weighed more than I did!” the Republican crowd ate it up, giving her a hearty cheer.
Another part of Martinez’s tale is familiar to Latinos: she grew up in a Democratic household. Most Latinos identify as Democrats and they traditionally support Democratic candidates. Although her journey from left to right is familiar to those who have heard her speak before (it happened after a lunch with two GOPers), it provided a compelling narrative to a national TV audience, including Latinos, watching her for the first time.
“We talked about many issues, like welfare - is it a way of life, or a hand-up? Talked about the size of government — how much should it tax families and small businesses?” she said.
“And when we left that lunch, we got in the car and I looked over at [husband] Chuck and said, ‘I’ll be damned, we’re Republicans,’” she added.
Martinez’s tone was much more resonant than Ann Romney’s (or that Ted Cruz’s for that matter) while making a similar point, that Latinos should consider the issues and how they affect their personal lives before choosing a party and a candidate.
Is Martinez’s speech a panacea for Romney’s woes with Latino voters in this election? Probably not. And it’s not as if Martinez is as well loved by Latinos in her home state like Jeb Bush was in Florida. But it provides a model of how Republicans should speak to Latino voters if they want to make inroads in the community.
The charismatic Cuban-American Senator Marco Rubio will speak Thursday to introduce Mitt Romney, but it’s hard to imagine a speech that hit the right notes for Latinos like Martinez’s did. Her speech showed why she’s often mentioned with Rubio as a rising star in the party and a potential White House contender in future elections.