With just two weeks before this year’s elections, the Cuban-American Republican Ted Cruz is on the verge of becoming the first Latino to represent Texas in the U.S. Senate.
Polls show that Cruz, who is the former Texas solicitor general, is well ahead of his Democratic challenger Paul Sadler. He led Sadler by as much as 26 percent in a recent poll.
Yet, many of the Lone Star State’s Latinos are not exactly thrilled about the 41-year-old’s likely victory over his challenger.
Political analysts say it is because of Cruz’s conservative positions on several issues including immigration, healthcare and voter ID laws. They say his stance on these issues is likely to turn off many of the state’s Latino voters who are predominately Mexican American and more likely to side with Democrats on economic and social issues.
Cruz’s stance on issues upset many Latinos
A majority of the Latinos in Texas support a comprehensive immigration reform that provides a pathway to citizenship for some of the nation’s undocumented immigrants. In contrast, Cruz favors securing the border and opposes amnesty saying, “America remains a nation of laws.”
He also denounces President Barack Obama’s deferred action for undocumented youth and opposes the DREAM Act, legislation that would legalize certain undocumented young immigrants.
With more than a third of Latinos in Texas lacking health insurance, many Latinos favor Obama’s Affordable Care Act, but Cruz says he would vote in Congress to end it.
Cruz also favors strict voter ID laws that require voters to show identification. Meanwhile, many Latino organizations say such laws suppress voter turnout among Latinos, the poor and minorities.
The Republican candidate has received criticism from elected Latinos, including U.S. Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (D-Texas), for his positions on these and other issues important to Latinos.
“You’ve given someone the megaphone, but the words that are spoken is what matters,” Gonzalez, who chairs the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, told the Dallas News in August.
But Cruz isn’t showing any signs that he is worried about appealing to Latinos. That’s because he says Latinos overall are fundamentally conservative and that they share many of the same conservative values that the Republican Party stands for.
That’s a message that has been repeated before by high-profile Republican Latino officeholders, including Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico, and Gov. Brian Sandoval of Nevada.
It was also a common theme in August among Latino Republicans who attended the Republican National Convention, in which Cruz was given a speaking role. They agreed that there are plenty of Latinos who are conservative and don’t realize they could be Republican.
The GOP and Cruz struggle to appeal to Latinos in Texas
The Latino Republicans also agreed that the GOP needs to do more Latino outreach and acknowledge the important role Latinos will play in this election and other future elections.
Sylvia Manzano, a Houston-based senior project manager with Latino Decisions, reiterated that message in a recent report. She stated that moving forward, Republicans in Texas will need to increase their share of Latino votes, “not just their share of Latinos elected to office.”
That’s because Latinos are expected to outnumber whites in Texas before the next U.S. Census in 2020. Currently, Latinos make up 40 percent of the state’s population and about 65 percent of them have historically voted Democratic.
Manzano said that in order to increase their share of Latino voters, Republicans “must shed their association with anti-Latino rhetoric and policy.”
“The party brand is so damaged that some Texas GOP activists eager to engage Latino voters opt to avoid the word ‘Republican’ altogether; focusing on ‘conservative’ instead,” she added.
Analysts, including Manzano, thought during the primaries that Cruz could help the Republicans “re-cast” themselves as a conservative party. They thought he could appeal to like-minded Latinos and drive away from the harsh rhetoric that has pushed away so many Latinos.
But that probably won’t happen, as Cruz has become a Tea Party favorite, a characteristic not highly favored by Latinos.
Cruz becomes a Tea Party favorite
Political analysts attribute much of the momentum Cruz has gained to the help he has been receiving from the Tea Party movement.
Beginning in the primaries, Tea Party leaders have been helping him rein in contributions from PACs. They’ve also helped him pick up endorsements from Tea Party favorites including: South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, Rick Santorum, Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck.
A similar tale was seen when Sen. Rubio of Florida ran for U.S. Senate in 2010.
“Just like Marco Rubio, Ted entered the U.S. Senate race relatively unknown and underfunded. He beat all odds to become the GOP nominee,” Al Cardenas, president of American Conservative Union and former Florida GOP chairman, said in a statement.
Is Cruz the next Marco Rubio?
Cruz is often compared to Rubio partly because of the similarities they both share. For example, they are both Cuban Americans with strong family ties to Cuba, share conservative values and are backed by the Tea Party.
One of their biggest similarities is that both of their fathers left Cuba and sought a better future in the U.S., a story they both bring up in speeches.
Most recently, Cruz was shown in a T.V. ad with his father, Rafael. In the 30-second ad, Cruz speaks about his father leaving Cuba to seek “the land of opportunity” and says he plans to protect the American Dream if he’s elected.
Though Cruz and Rubio share a number of similarities, there are also several characteristics that set them apart.
For example, it is unknown how much support Cruz received from Latinos during the primaries. But political analysts predict it wasn’t significantly high, partly because of his ties to the Tea Party and his little efforts to court Latino voters.
In contrast, Rubio received substantial support from Latinos in 2010. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, the Florida senator captured 55 percent of the Latino vote in his bid for the U.S. Senate.
The two Cuban Americans also differ on their ability to speak Spanish. Rubio is fully bilingual while Cruz told Fox News his Spanish is “lousy.”