Brian Sandoval, Susana Martinez and Ted Cruz.
Will their likenesses some day be carved into the side of some red rock formation like some Southwest version of Mount Rushmore, recognizing the most transformative figures of 21st Century American politics?
Sandoval and Martinez are governors of Nevada and New Mexico, respectively, and Cruz is headed to becoming the next U.S. Senator from Texas. They are all Latinos, and they are all Republicans who have won stunning elections in the last two years in states where the conventional wisdom said that Republican Hispanics couldn’t succeed.
And they have not only changed the political landscape of America, but also shaken the foundation of how politics in the country views the role of Hispanics in politics.
The fact that these politicians have succeeded in states with significant Latino voter blocs shows that, contrary to conventional belief, they have been able to draw upon the votes of their fellow Hispanics, political party labels notwithstanding.
Almost as important, however, is this other fact: These Latino politicians have succeeded because they have also been able to win over the support of non-Hispanic voters as well.
“I voted for Cruz because of his conservative beliefs and politics, not his ethnicity,” Russell York, a retired Naval officer who lives in Port Lavaca, Tx, told Voxxi.com a day after Cruz’s come-from-behind runoff triumph for the Republican Party’s U.S. Senate nomination in Texas.
York’s comments typified the sentiments of many who voted for Cruz, the 41-year-old former Texas Solicitor General who is heavily favored to win the Senate seat in November and succeed the retiring Kay Bailey Hutchison.
White or Latino, they were motivated into voting for Cruz because of his conservative stance –- he is, after all, the darling of the Tea Party insurgency in Texas – and a background equal even to that of President Barack Obama: A Princeton undergraduate, a Harvard law degree, clerking for a former chief justice of the Supreme Court, and an up-by-the-bootstraps success story.
But Cruz represents something more.
As unthinkable as some people might believe it to be, in Cruz the Republicans and their upstart political cousins, the Tea Party, may have stumbled on to what they needed to bring more Latinos to their fold and possibly change the way politics has been headed in America.
Since the post-World War II era of the 1950, Latinos in the Southwest have operated on the assumption that the only way they could ever achieve political success was as Democrats — but only after putting in their dues as rank-and-file members of a party that often forgot them or just took their votes for granted.
It didn’t seem to matter to Democratic Party leaders that few Latinos had ever really achieved much success in moving into statewide elective office as Democrats – and none to speak of in Texas.
More recently, as the ever-increasing Latino voting bloc has generated headlines, the
accompanying analysis has been that Hispanics will vote Democratic and will not be swayed into voting Republican, even for a Republican who happens to be Hispanic.
But now how do you ignore Salazar and Martinez, Hispanic Republicans who have won big offices in states where the growing Latino vote was supposedly leaning Democratic? You can’t.
Then add Cruz into that mix. How is it that these Hispanic Republicans are getting elected not to any old local office but to the highest offices of their states? Political elections aren’t won by affirmative action. These aren’t token appointments.
“It could be that Ted Cruz has broken the mold for Hispanics, not only in Texas but elsewhere,” says California Republican consultant William Orozco. “People will follow other people who are successful in life.”
More importantly, say Orozco and others, the conservative Cruz who happens to be Cuban and a Baptist may have more in common with Hispanics of Mexican ancestry than many pundits and so-called Latino experts believe or are willing to imagine.
“Few are willing to understand or acknowledge that the typical Latino voter is much more conservative in religion, family, societal and economic issues that he’s given credit for,” says Orozco.
Republican leaders would be wise to take note of what is happening in these three states –
states where the Latino vote has become the balance of power in many elections. These are also states where strong Latino candidates with impeccable academic and career credentials – not lifelong political butt-kissers or professional Hispanics who carry their ethnicities on their shirtsleeves – have made a difference.
Could this be the formula, or a key ingredient of it, that will change the future of the Republican Party in such heavily blue states like California?
The sad situation of the Republican Party and its inability to attract Hispanics in places like California reminds me of how there was a time when promising young tennis players would never have given much thought to hitting two-handed backhands that could significantly improve their games and careers.
Tennis instructors at the time abhorred the two-handed backhand, and no one really used it that I remember except a small Ecuadorian professional player who said he employed it because his strength was weakened by having a double hernia.
Meanwhile, there’s no telling how many promising young players never got anywhere because they couldn’t hit a one-handed backhand with any effectiveness.
Not until Chris Evert and Jimmy Connors entered the scene and became world champions in the 1970s — with deadly two-handed backhands. Other players soon followed. Today the two-handed backhand is more common than a one-handed backhand.
And young people, especially ambitious youngsters — whether it’s in sports, politics or life — are always watching for what works and what gets them ahead.
I also happen to know the perfect red rock formation in Sedona, Arizona.