In the Heat of New Hampshire Primary, Rubio Campaign Downplays Candidate’s Latino Roots

GOFFSTOWN, NEW HAMPSHIRE — In a 2016 election where Marco Rubio is one of two leading Republican candidates who could make history as the country’s first Latino presidential nominee, a spokesperson for the Rubio campaign downplayed the Florida’s senator background, instead emphasizing Rubio’s appeal to a broader group of voters.

“He’s running as someone to unite all Republicans,” Rubio campaign communications director Alex Conant said in the spin room after Saturday’s Republican debate at Saint Anselm College. “Our focus is on winning the Republican primary, uniting Republicans, and then inspiring the nation and beating Hillary [Clinton].”

Conant’s comments were in response to a question about whether the Rubio campaign thinks about the possibility that Rubio could become the first Latino presidential nominee in the history of the United States or that he is a Latino candidate in the top tier of GOP candidates, a point Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus called a “big deal” after Texas senatorTed Cruz won the Iowa Caucus last week and Rubio placed in third.

The Rubio campaign, Conant said, is focusing first on trying to secure the nomination before it can address the historical moment of it, if indeed Rubio were to become the nominee. However, Conant added, that doesn’t mean that the Latino vote is not important.

“We want to win as many votes as we can and that includes winning as many Latino votes as we can,” Conant said. “And obviously Marco speaks Spanish, does Spanish-language media regularly. He’s always done well with Latino voters in Florida. I can tell you this: Hillary Clinton doesn’t want Marco Rubio to be the Republican nominee, in part because she knows he will do very well with Latino voters.”

In a December poll that focused on the Latino vote, Rubio, who is Cuban American, had the highest marks among Republican candidates.

“I think he’s going to be the Republican nominee because his life story is one all Americans can relate to,” Conant added.

In contrast to the Rubio campaign, a spokesperson for the Cruz campaign said that the Texas senator has acknowledged the possibility that Cruz could become the country’s first Latino presidential nominee if he were to win the GOP race.

“If we’re able to capture the nomination and go up against Hillary in the general election, I think there are a number of different groups where Ted Cruz has a story to tell,” Cruz spokesperson Jason Miller said. “Hispanics definitely would be a large bloc. Having the opportunity to be the first Hispanic president… I think there are a number of other groups that he could do very will with. Talk about Millennials. Talk about Jewish American voters. You can talk about Reagan Democrats. I think there’s a good case as to why Ted Cruz will do well with women.”

“Obviously, he’s proud of his heritage and this historic opportunity,” Miller added, saying that Cruz talks about his family history “all the time” and “it is something that’s important to him.” Cruz’s father is of Cuban descent.

Miller emphasized that people should look at how in Cruz outperformed Mitt Romney in the 2012 election with Latino voters in Texas. Romney received 29% of the Texas Latino vote in his race against President Barack Obama, while Cruz earned 35% of the Texas Latino vote against his Democratic opponent.

A new poll out has Cruz and Rubio tied for second place in New Hampshire, the day before the state’s primary.

Democratic National Committee communications director Luis Miranda said that despite talk about two Latino candidates performing well in Republican contests, both Cruz and Rubio are supporting policies that are not aligned to the Latino community.

“[Cruz] himself has rejected the Latino label pretty strongly,” Miranda said. “More importantly, it’s the policies [Cruz and Rubio] are advocating that are bad for the country generally, but particularly harmful to minorities and the Hispanic community.”

Miranda cited Cruz’s positions on immigration and the economy that he finds problematic.

“I don’t think Cruz’s background plays much of a role here, considering his extreme positions,” Miranda said.

Miranda did acknowledge that Cruz’s Iowa win was a historic moment for Latinos but that the historic moment was not the “overarching factor.”

“If we are trying to look for a Latino candidate who’s Latino, that’s the wrong approach,” Miranda explained, “I frankly don’t think that’s useful in either party. I think the issue with Cruz is the policies that he takes and how problematic they are for Latinos of course, but plenty of other communities across the country.”

Miranda also added that in his travels across the country, people are telling him that “by and large, what you hear is that [Cruz and Rubio] don’t really seem to want to be Latino. They seem to be running away from their heritage to be able to win a Republican primary, or maybe that’s just who they are. But it’s certainly not inspiring confidence.”

Cruz and Rubio Spar Over Immigration (Again) at #GOPDebate

Continuing a theme they started in the last Republican debate, senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, both sons of Cuban immigrants, had another testy exchange over immigration at last night’s debate in South Carolina. The tone of last night’s comments positioned immigration policy as a national security issue, a far cry from the bipartisan 2012 “Gang of Eight” bill, which Rubio supported.

Are Cruz and Rubio ‘Traitors’ to Latinos or Do They Just Have Different Views?

With another Republican debated slated for tonight in Las Vegas, more and more attention is being given to the two GOP candidates of Cuban descent—Texas senator Ted Cruz and Florida senator Marco Rubio. This morning, a Washington Post headline blared, “Liberal Hispanic activists assail Rubio, Cruz as ‘traitors’ to their culture.’ The story, written by Mary Jordan, the newspaper’s national correspondent, told how Democratic-leaning groups such as the Latino Victory Project and community icons like Dolores Huerta put Cruz and Rubio in the same box as Donald Trump when it comes to immigration:

At a Monday gathering in Nevada of Democratic Hispanic leaders, ahead of tonight’s GOP debate in Las Vegas, photos of Cruz and Rubio were plastered alongside Trump’s picture, as all three were criticized as anti-Latino. A press release noted, “While Trump continues to grab headlines with his hateful anti-Latino, anti-immigrant language, the positions and records of the two Latino presidential candidates in the race are equally dangerous for Nevada communities.”

Dolores Huerta, an influential labor leader and civil rights activist, called Cruz and Rubio “sellouts” and “traitors” at the gathering and said the Hispanic candidates “are turning their backs on the Latino community.”

Partisan politics aside, the question remains: Are Cruz and Rubio ‘traitors’ to Latinos or do they just have different views? Latino USA asked several noted Latino politics observers. Here is what they told us:

Esther Cepeda, Nationally syndicated columnist, The Washington Post Writers Group

It’s true that all’s fair in love, war and politics so from a tactical perspective trashing Latino politicians on policy makes sense. However, in a time when so many others are demonizing Hispanics, it’s disconcerting to see our own ripped apart on the basis of their fealty to an amorphous idea of what Latino identity should be. Cruz and Rubio’s politics and policies are fair game, criticize away. But it denigrates all Latinos when some of us decide to become arbiters of what is or is not “truly” Latino. We spend a lot of time telling people outside the Hispanic community to understand that we are not monolithic – we should follow our own advice.

Stephen A. Nuño, contributor and Associate Professor, Department of Politics and International Affairs, Northern Arizona University

The truth is that Latinos have great potential to contribute to all sides of the political ledger if only those in the GOP would see the greater long-term opportunity in expanding the party message rather than consolidating it with white voters. I think Latino organizations, both conservative and liberal, are right to challenge Cruz and Rubio on their policies, but to suggest that one’s loyalty to identity rest on certain leaders’ assertion of a political test, and to cast accusations of ‘traitor’ should they not pass that test, is no less fascist and dogmatic as the Trump crowd.

Pilar Marrero, Senior Political Reporter, La Opinión

Even before all of this activism and partisan campaigning started pointing fingers at Cruz and Rubio, we wrote a couple of stories about the inconsistencies between these two politicians life stories or family stories and their positions on immigration and other issues of interest to most of the Latino voters in this country. We should hold politicians accountable, and not just the Republicans, the Democrats too. All of them. But if these two are going to be a “threat” to democrats by peeling off latino voters, they have a lot of work to do. I am not convinced either of them is a threat at this time. First, there´s an issue of the Republican brand, which is seriously damaged among Latinos and getting worse thanks to continuous demagoguery on immigration and race. Then, there´s the fact that most Latino immigrants in this country are Mexican and these two are Cuban. And Mexicans know that Cubans, even today, still have a privileged immigration status that basically offers legal residency and public assistance as soon as they set foot in the country or come to the border to request refuge status.

Albert Morales, Director of Latino Engagement, Democratic National Committee

Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are both using extreme rhetoric and backward-looking policies that would be harmful to every American, including Hispanics, by dragging us back to the economic policies that were in place on the way to losing 8 million jobs, to seeing foreclosure signs paper streets all across America, and when hard working and middle class Americans of all backgrounds had to choose between bankruptcy and getting the health care they needed. That both of these candidates are the children of economic and political refugees from Cuba only makes the tone of their campaigns and their tax-cuts for the wealthy economic policies that much more offensive.

We also got some tweets, and as expected, the opinions varied:

A similar debate occurred on Facebook. Here is what Joe Laughon said:

To me people who use terms like “traitor” are playing dangerously close to white supremacist rhetoric of “race traitor” that used to be thrown around in the American South, Germany or South Africa. Furthermore it denies a desperately needed robust political disagreement among Latinos as to how to better our community. “Traitor” is the cry of someone who wants to shut down debate for their own aggrandizement.

Gabriel Reyes said this:

Cruz is Latino only in name. Rubio is playing the Latino card because GOP is a diversity desert. In order to be a traitor, you have to have an actual following to betray. Neither of them have a meaningful Latino following.

Marisel Moreno explained:

I have 2 observations: 1) Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are both “Latinos”, whether people like it or not. Their family roots are in Latin America, therefore, they are Latinos. There’s not “one” way of being Latino/a, and we have to embrace that diversity. 2) they’re perceived as “traitors” because their concerns don’t line up with the majority of US Latinos/as, who tend to be underprivileged in general terms. This mostly reflects a class rift. Their attitude isn’t surprising, it happens all the time, the difference is that they’re on the spotlight, thus we get a chance to criticize them. Pan-Latino unity is situational. Maybe if their circumstances and social position were different, their ideas might have aligned better with the majority of people who define themselves as Latinos/as.

Finally, this is what Carlos Flores said:

I don’t agree with some of their policies… but that doesn’t make them any less Latino than me, or any other Latino. The “No true Scotsman” fallacy or in this case “no true Latino” is weak rhetoric that doesn’t speak to the issues.

What do you think? Tweet me your thoughts to @julito77 or add your comments below.

Marco Rubio and the New Cuban Identity

This week’s Intersection podcast from New Republic focuses on Florida senator Marco Rubio and how his presidential campaign is being viewed through the “through the lens of identity politics.” As the podcast asks: “How do race, gender, class, and other identities play into the candidate’s campaign, and the image he or she wants voters to buy into?” Host Jamil Smith had a very lively conversation with our very own Julio Ricardo VarelaAndrea Pino of End Rape on Campus and Alfredo Estrada of Latino Magazine.

Rubio Calls for Three Steps to Immigration Reform

Last night during the New Hampshire 2016 Republican Candidates “Voters First Forum,” Florida senator and Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio was asked about immigration. Here is a clip of what he said via C-SPAN:

Breitbart posted a full transcript of Rubio’s response. What follows is an excerpt of Rubio’s initial comments:

“[Immigration] cannot be fixed in one massive comprehensive piece of legislation. There is only one way forward, and it will require three steps, and they have to happen in the following sequence. First, we have to prove to the American people that illegal immigration is under control. It’s not good enough to just say, ‘We’re going to pass a law that will bring it under control.’ People demand to see it. They want to see the fence. They want to see more border agents. They want to see more drones and cameras and ground sensors. But they also recognize that over 40% of the people in this country illegally entered legally, and overstayed a visa. And that’s why we need an electronic verification system that employers must comply with, or they will be heavily fined. And that’s why we need an entry/exit biometric system at our seaports and airports. So that we know when people are overstaying visas and we can identify them. That is the key that unlocks the ability to make progress on anything else when it comes to immigration.”

Although Rubio was one of the senators who pushed for a bipartisan Gang of Eight comprehensive immigration reform bill which passed the Senate in the summer of 2013, he also kept asking that more changes be made to the bill before a formal vote. For example, in the spring of 2013, Rubio issued a statement about the bill. In that statement, he said this:

We have made substantial progress, and I believe we will be able to agree on a legislative proposal that modernizes our legal immigration system, improves border security and enforcement and allows those here illegally to earn the chance to one day apply for permanent residency contingent upon certain triggers being met. However, that legislation will only be a starting point.

Has Rubio (who has seen his poll numbers slipping) changed his views on immigration reform from the days of the Gang of Eight or are his words from New Hampshire last night a refinement of what he was saying in 2013?

Latino USA reached out twice to the Rubio campaign to see if it could elaborate on the senator’s most recent comments, but as of this posting, the campaign has not responded. (If the campaign does respond, we will share any updates.)


Daniel Garza, Executive Director of the LIBRE Initiative, a right-leaning Latino empowerment and voter outreach organization, shared the following with Latino USA about Rubio’s immigration stance:


“I think it’s good for the Latino community to have one of their own, as a top-tier candidate, bringing pragmatic ideas. Much of what he has expressed and his narrative, is one that is common to us. Senator Rubio spoke out on the issue of immigration, and showed leadership, even when it was unpopular for those in his own party.  And while the passage of the Senate bill was a step in the right direction, many understood the bill was not perfect and that improvements were needed.

While Senator Rubio has expressed mistrust over the Administration’s ability to honor the legislation as passed, he has also made his sentiments clear—the need for reform has not diminished. Regrettably, when House leadership began to advance ideals, with the release of their principles, they were met with threats and eventual Administration action by the President, which ended the debate in Congress.  It was an outcome many predicted.  Congress must act to provide the legal avenues necessary to absorb the current undocumented population, accommodate for future immigrant flows, and address the issues on the border. Each part is essential.”

Nonetheless, Democrats are using Rubio’s New Hampshire comments to claim that Rubio has always been out of touch with U.S. Latino voters, even though the Florida senator is of Cuban descent. Pablo Manriquez, the Democatic National Committee’s Hispanic Media Director, told Latino USA the following:


“Last night in New Hampshire, Marco Rubio proved just how far he’s run from the reform bill he once supported by giving a lengthy response to an immigration question in which he used the word ‘citizenship’ exactly zero times. Before that he called for ‘less Sotomayors’ on the Supreme Court. Sadly, Marco Rubio’s 21st Century agenda is a comprehensive push backwards on everything from marriage equality, on the Affordable Care Act, on women’s rights, and more. Latino voters deserve better.”

Writer and political observer Adriana Maestas indicated to Latino USA that Rubio has indeed moved away from his initial Gang of Eight efforts:


“Marco Rubio is trying to distance himself from the work that he did with the Gang of Eight comprehensive immigration reform bill that he voted for in 2013 and that did have a path to citizenship, albeit a long and arduous road. Rubio is essentially pandering to the Donald Trump wing of his party asking for more border agents, drones and ground sensors at a time when the border is already heavily monitored.  

The Border Patrol is already the largest law enforcement agency in the country and has been plagued with criticisms of misconduct. Instead of asking for accountability and showing fiscal  restraint, Rubio’s rhetoric falls in line with the priorities of his donors in the private prison industry.”

Immigrant reform advocate Frank Sharry of America’s Voice has followed the immigration politics of Washington for years. When asked about what Rubio said last night, this is what Sharry said to Latino USA:


“Rubio championed a comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate on a bipartisan basis. It combined three elements – enforcement, legal immigration reforms and a path to citizenship for most of the 11 million. Then, when his polls in early primary states seemed to take a hit, he came out against a comprehensive approach. 

Now he says we have to do the three elements in sequence, when he knows full well that such an approach would never, ever pass the Congress. The Republicans are too divided and the Democrats are too united. The only thing that can pass is comprehensive immigration reform —with all Democrats and some Republicans— but only if Republican leaders step up and lead rather than turn tail and run. Rubio was a champion of the cause. Now he’s a traitor to it.”

Stephen A. Nuño, associate professor in the Department of Politics and International Affairs at Northern Arizona University and a contributor at NBCNews-Latino, explained to Latino USA that Rubio “failed miserably” last night:


“Marco Rubio failed miserably last night in his discussion on immigration. His message was the same throwback message of the GOP since the Prop 187 debate in California 25 years ago. The GOP lost that debate already. He’s essentially Donald Trump with good hair.”

What do you think of Rubio’s immigration position? Tweet me @julito77 with your thoughts or add your comments below.

A Latino Running Mate Won’t Win Romney ‘The Latino Vote’

It looks like Mitt Romney is going to announce his vice presidential running mate well before the Republican convention gets underway in Tampa at the end of August. Many people speculate that Romney will choose a Latino. The question is: Who would it be and will it make a difference to Latino voters?

Romney is a tough sell to most Latinos. During the primaries, the GOP candidates seemed to be competing to out-anti-illegal-immigrant each other. Romney came on pretty strong in his support for strict enforcement of immigration laws, even urging undocumented immigrants to “self deport” themselves. But in the general election he’s hoping Latinos will forget all of that and focus on the economy. Fat chance.

What Romney fails to accept is that while Latinos are as concerned with unemployment and the recession as anyone else, immigration is still a huge issue for them. Romney’s standing with Latinos became even more problematic after President Obama announced a new policy that will help undocumented college kids stay in the country legally, a move incredibly well received by the Latino community.

The name most often mentioned as a Latino VP pick is Marco Rubio. The young Cuban-American senator from Florida is popular among Tea Partiers and conservatives. Rubio is probably the best known Republican Latino politician out there right now. He’s practically a household name and his nomination would lock up the Cuban-American vote for Romney. But Romney already has their support, so why work hard on a sure thing? Cuban-Americans aren’t that concerned with immigration policy, as their path to citizenship is totally different from that of other Latinos. Rubio is a strident opponent of unauthorized immigration, which is a big turn off for most Latinos other than Cubans. It’s doubtful that nominating Rubio would change many people’s vote. Political commentators are starting to agree with me, even conservative ones like Fox News’ Sean Hannity.

Another possibility is Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuño. He was an early supporter of Romney during the primaries. Fortuño has strong conservative economic credentials and is an outspoken proponent of having Puerto Rico join the Union as the 51st state.

Picking Fortuño would be a way for Romney to try to attract Puerto Rican votes, especially in the crucial swing state of Florida. But historically, Puerto Ricans have voted Democratic.  It would be a stretch for Romney to change this precedent.

It’s doubtful that picking Fortuño would be enough of an incentive for the majority of Puerto Ricans to vote Republican. While they may be glad that a Boricua is on the ballot, many still disagree with conservative Republican policies. Also, Fortuño’s pro-statehood stance isn’t very popular among Puerto Ricans on or off the island. Four times in recent years Puerto Ricans have voted to maintain the status quo and not join the Union.

New Mexico governor Susana Martinez is another possible candidate for VPOTUS. She’s not as well known as Rubio or Fortuño, but the benefit of Martinez is that she’s a double threat: a woman and a Latina. The thinking goes that she could attract both female and Latino voters because of her ancestry and gender.

The problem with Martinez is that she is a controversial figure. She admitted that her grandparents came to New Mexico as undocumented workers, which was not popular among anti-illegal immigration conservatives. She tried to win them over by passing a law making it nearly impossible for undocumented workers to obtain driver’s licenses in her state, but that wasn’t popular with Latinos. Martinez, unlike Rubio and Fortuño, has experience with the plight of the undocumented in her own family and yet is actively working to make things harder on recent immigrants.  Would Romney risk alienating his conservative base for a nominee that many Latinos see as a traitor?

So while it’s conceivable that Romney will pick a Latino as his running mate,  it probably won’t happen simply because it won’t make a big enough difference for the Republican ticket.  Yes, it’s true that the Latino vote could be a deciding factor in a number of key states and the GOP needs to find a way to capture that vote. But will Latinos who support the rights of undocumented workers—and in many instances have undocumented family members—vote for a candidate just because the person running with him has a Spanish last name?  Probably not.  If Republicans really want to win over Latino voters they need to do more than rely on symbolism that the GOP is their amigo.

Fi2W is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation and the Sirus Fund. Image courtesy of flickr

Jack Tomas is a writer, filmmaker, and editor working in New York. He’s originally from Houston, TX where he earned a BA in Theater and Communication from The University of St. Thomas. Later, he received an MA in Media Studies at The New School. Jack has worked several years as a professional filmmaker and his films have appeared in several film festivals including the Cannes Film Festival, The LA Comedy Shorts Festival, and The New York Independent Film Festival. He has also worked as a professional blogger since 2009 writing for,,, and He lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn with his wife Marybec and two cats.