By Orlando Rodriguez
Over the years, it has been a common assumption that Puerto Ricans vote Democratic and Cubans vote Republican. Mexicans, however, have demonstrated their independence and confounded politicos by voting for candidates from both political parties.
Mexican Americans supported George W. Bush, then switched gears and helped propel Barack Obama to victory. This is not a bad strategy if you want to command attention from both Democrats and Republicans and it seems to be one that a growing number of other Latino sub-groups may be embracing.
The timing couldn’t be better for Latinos to expand their political reach through diverse political voting patterns as some members of the Republican Party are looking to become more relevant to a broader swath of Americans, and in particular Latinos. Can moderate Latinos be part of a coup within the Republican Party? Why should Latinos have only one political party on their side when they can have both? Sure, there is an anti-Latino and anti-immigrant element in the Republican Party but adding a whole bunch of new Latinos to the GOP would only work to marginalize those intolerant voices. Tolerance breeds — well — tolerance.
Is it too far-fetched to think that an increasing number of Latinos may turn to Republican candidates, especially in a true-blue state such as Connecticut? Let’s not forget that the South was once a staunch Democratic stronghold until it went Republican starting with Ronald Reagan.
Of registered Latino voters in Connecticut, 52 percent are Democrats, but last year more than 22,000 new Latinos registered to vote and among this group nearly as many (46 percent) registered as unaffiliated as did Democratic (48 percent). In Connecticut, Latinos may be shifting slowly from Democrats to independents. One caveat. The secretary of the state’s office provides this information and identifies Latinos based on Latino surnames, which is an imprecise methodology.
So, in Connecticut, Latinos make up about 7.5 percent of registered voters and could well make a difference in the outcome of elections such as the last race for governor, which Democrat Dannel P. Malloy won over Republican Tom Foley by only 6,404 votes.
Across the nation, there are signs of Latinos straying from the left-leaning stereotype that has been a hard and fast rule in political circles. U.S. Rep. Raúl Labrador, a Republican from Idaho, is a great example of the diverse, and sometimes discombobulating, political actions of Latinos. Mr. Labrador is a Puerto Rican. He graduated from Brigham Young University and is a Mormon just like Mitt Romney. Yes, to repeat, Mr. Labrador is a Puerto Rican-born Republican Mormon who certainly doesn’t fit the typecast of what Connecticut expects in a Latino politician.
Even in our own backyard, in Massachusetts, Gabriel Gomez is running against U.S. Rep. Edward J. Markey to replace former U.S. Sen. John Kerry, who resigned his Senate seat to become the U.S. Secretary of State. Mr. Gomez was born in Los Angeles to Colombian immigrants and spoke Spanish before he spoke English. Mr. Markey is white and from Malden, Mass. We would expect Mr. Gomez to be a Democrat given his Latino ethnicity, recent immigrant heritage and the vocal anti-immigrant rhetoric of the Republican Party. However, Mr. Gomez is running as a Republican. There goes the stereotype out the window.
Although some dismiss Gomez as a serious challenger to the well-known Markey, who has been in Congress for 37 years. Democrats in heavily Democratic Massachusetts are worried that this Republican newcomer just might defeat Markey. Some polls show Markey with a substantial lead while others suggest the race is a tossup. The outcome depends on which voters care enough to vote in a special election on Tuesday — not what polls say about preferences.
The wild card in the Gomez-Markey election just might be the Latino voter. Interestingly, voter participation is high among Latinos in Massachusetts, at 63 percent, compared to only 47 percent for Latinos in Connecticut. Might Latino voters in Massachusetts overwhelmingly support Gabriel Gomez regardless of his political affiliation? It would certainly make a statement about Latino political clout to have a Latino senator from Massachusetts — regardless of party affiliation.
Former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kansas, has said the Republican Party should be “closed for repairs” in part due to the lack of support among Latinos in the 2012 presidential election. If Gabriel Gomez defeats Ed Markey, or comes really close to beating Markey, the Republican Party would be smart to increase its efforts to embrace Latinos as good political repairmen. Latinos should take the job because two bases of representation are better than one.
Orlando Rodriguez is a frequent contributor to CTLatinoNews.com. His views do not reflect the views of his employer.