Clin­ton wor­ried by Bush’s Latino creds

The China Post - - COMMENTARY - BY KEN THOMAS AND LISA LERER

Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton’s 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign prob­a­bly didn’t need a re­minder of how cru­cial Latino vot­ers could be to her pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. She got one any­way from Repub­li­can can­di­date Jeb Bush.

The for­mer Repub­li­can gover­nor of Florida spoke flu­ent Span­ish dur­ing his 2016 cam­paign kick­off this week, at which he in­tro­duced his wife, a na­tive of Mexico, to an ador­ing crowd that cheered as he ef­fort­lessly de­flected an at­tempt by immigration protests to in­ter­rupt his speech.

Clin­ton will ad­dress the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Latino Elected and Ap­pointed Of­fi­cials on Thurs­day in Las Ve­gas at a time when Bush’s bilin­gual pitch is prompt­ing quiet pangs of con­cern among some Demo­cratic strate­gists.

They worry that a cam­paign that suc­cess­fully presents Bush as the prod­uct of his His­panicin­fused South Florida home could cut into their party’s siz­able de­mo­graphic ad­van­tage with Latino vot­ers — par­tic­u­larly in hard-fought states such as Florida, Colorado and Ne­vada.

Bush comes across as “gen­uine and com­fort­able in his own skin,” said David Ax­el­rod, a for­mer strate­gist to Pres­i­dent Barack Obama. “If he hangs tough and sur­vives (the pri­mary), Democrats should be sober. He would be a for­mi­da­ble op­po­nent.”

Bush may be the white scion of a po­lit­i­cal dy­nasty with deep roots in New Eng­land, but he has adopted His­panic cul­ture as his own. He made his ca­reer in the bilin­gual mecca of Mi­ami, Span­ish is his pri­mary lan­guage at home and he brags about buy­ing cilantro to make Latin cui­sine for his wife.

On the cam­paign trail, Bush switches seam­lessly be­tween English and Span­ish when an­swer­ing ques­tions, his skills in the lan­guage honed dur­ing the two years he spent in Venezuela as a young man. He also trav­els with Raul Hen­riques, a fresh-faced “body man” re­cently hired be­cause Bush wanted a Span­ish speaker.

Repub­li­cans be­lieve Bush could help their party close a yawn­ing po­lit­i­cal gap among Latino vot­ers. Repub­li­can nom­i­nee Mitt Rom­ney won just 27 per­cent of the Latino vote in 2012, the small­est mar­gin in a decade. Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, who had far weaker ties to the His­panic com­mu­nity than his younger brother Jeb, earned as much as 40 per­cent of their vote dur­ing his 2004 re-elec­tion race.

Main­tain­ing a broad Demo­cratic ad­van­tage among one of the coun­try’s fastest-grow­ing mi­nor­ity groups will be es­sen­tial to Clin­ton’s path to the White House. Al­most 28.2 mil­lion His­pan­ics will be el­i­gi­ble to vote in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial race, an in­crease of about 17 per­cent over 2012, ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis of cen­sus data by the Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress, a lib­eral think tank.

Clin­ton ad­vis­ers have long sin­gled Bush out from the rest of the crowded Repub­li­can field as a pos­si­ble threat, ar­gu­ing that his per­sonal con­nec­tion to the Latino com­mu­nity could help his cam­paign make in­roads in sev­eral bat­tle­ground states.

For months, Clin­ton and her team have worked hard to de­velop and deepen re­la­tion­ships with His­panic lead­ers. In May, she tapped Lorella Praeli, a lead­ing im­mi­grant-rights ac­tivist brought to the U.S. il­le­gally as a young per­son, to lead out­reach to Latino vot­ers.

Less than a month af­ter an­nounc­ing her plans to en­ter the race, Clin­ton called for a path to cit­i­zen­ship for un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants. Her po­si­tion left lit­tle po­lit­i­cal wig­gle room for Repub­li­cans open to an immigration over­haul, Bush in­cluded, who fa­vor grant­ing le­gal sta­tus for some of the 11 mil­lion work­ers in the coun­try il­le­gally but not full cit­i­zen­ship.

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