Democrats last night stepped up their bid for the crucial Latino vote by giving Julian Castro, the youthful two-term mayor of San Diego, a star turn on the party’s national stage as the first Hispanic politician to delivera national party convention keynote address.
Coming less than a week after Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Texas Senate GOP nominee Ted Cruz drew rave reviews for their high profile critiques of Obama’s record at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, the lesser known Castro had his work cut out for him. But Castro lived up to his billing as an important Democratic up-and-comer with an infectious smile and clever turns of phrase – captivating “Hispanic Obama” that some party activists have been calling him. More importantly for now, he provided a convincing case for Hispanic-American voters to back Obama for a second term.
In a lively defense of the president as the guardian of the middle class who brought the nation's economy back from the precipice of the worst financial crisis of modern times, Castro said that Obama "understands that when we invest in people we are investing in our shared prosperity."
"When Detroit was in trouble, President Obama saved the auto industry and saved a million jobs." Castro told a cheering crowd. "Seven presidents before him -- Republicans and Democrats -- tried to expand health care to all Americans. President Obama got it done.
He made an historic investment to lift our public schools and expand Pell Grants so that more young people can afford college. And because he knows we don't have an ounce of talent to waste, the president took action to lift the shadow of deportation from a generation of young, law abiding immigrant dreamers."
Romney, by contrast, "quite simply doesn't get it," Castro said. And he and his vice presidential running mate, Paul Ryan, are still promoting long discredited conservative tax and spending cuts that would benefit the rich even more at the expense of middle and lower income Americans.
"We know that in our free market economy some will prosper more than others," Castro said. "What we don't accept is the idea that some folks won't even get a chance.... Mitt Romney and the Republican Party are perfectly comfortable with that America. In fact, that's exactly what they're promising us. The Romney-Ryan budget doesn't just cut public education, cut Medicare, cut transportation and cut job training. It doesn’t just pummel the middle class, it dismantles it."
In his speech last Thursday night before Romney's acceptance speech, Rubio said, “Our problem with President Obama isn't that he's a bad person. By all accounts, he too is a good husband, and a good father -- and thanks to lots of practice, a pretty good golfer. Our problem is he's a bad president.”
Rubio mocked the president’s campaign slogan “Forward,” saying that any president who presided over more than a trillion dollars a year of budget deficits, an “$800 billion stimulus “that created more debt than jobs,” interventionist health care reforms financed with higher taxes and cuts to Medicare and “scores of new rules and regulations,” doesn’t deserve a second term.
“These ideas don’t move us ‘Forward,’ they take us ‘Backwards,’” Rubio said.
Cruz, a favorite of the Tea Party who upended Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the Texas GOP Senate primary in July, blamed Obama administration spending for the nation’s economic problems and growing debt. “Many in Washington seem content to saddle our children with a financial debt larger than our nation has ever seen,” Cruz said. “Government is out of control, and we’re going broke.”
Castro, who was introduced by his identical twin, Joaquin, a congressional candidate from San Antonio, made just the opposite arguments: that a victory by Romney and the Republicans would force the return of the same Republican supply-side or "trickle down" fiscal and economic policies that pushed the country into its worst financial crisis, recession and debt crisis of modern times.
And he vigorously defended Obama's Affordable Care Act – with its promise of expanded coverage for as many as 30 million uninsured Americans -- and noted that Romney helped pass that very same approach when he was governor of Massachusetts, even as he now vows to repeal the federal law as his first act as president. "Gov Romney has undergone an extreme makeover, and it ain't pretty," Castro said.
The 37-year-old Castro grew up on San Antonio’s largely Latino West Side, and learned politics from his mother, Rosie, a prominent leader of the Texas civil rights group La Raza Unida. He spoke lovingly about being raised by a single mother and a grandmother from Mexico who never made it past the fourth grade but who helped give her daughter and two grand children a better life by working as a maid, cook and babysitter in San Antonio, while teaching herself to read in English and Spanish.
He certainly lacks the political clout of a U.S. senator, like Rubio, or a governor, like New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, who also spoke last week at the Republican convention. Yet the Obama campaign is betting that Castro's speech will help rally the country’s large, young, Hispanic population to the president’s side once again.
Obama won about two-thirds of the Hispanic vote in 2008, compared with 31 percent for Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, with strong showings in battleground states of Colorado, Virginia, Florida and North Carolina. He and his strategists are counting on another big turnout in November. Campaign officials and convention delegates reportedly say that Obama’s June executive decision to allow many children of illegal immigrants to remain in the United States galvanized Hispanic voters and helped to lock up the Hispanic vote for another election.
Moreover, the Democratic National Convention boasts a record number of Hispanic delegates this year and the party is highlighting its Latino appeal by streaming coverage of the convention in both English and Spanish.
Romney only needs to improve his standing among registered Hispanic voters to 40 percent to pose a serious threat to Obama in key battle ground states in November. For sure, Romney alienated many Hispanic voters during the GOP primaries by staking out hard-line against illegal immigration that were far to the right of even former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., and Texas Gov. Rick Perry. He opposes the Dream Act or any other measure that smacked of amnesty for illegal aliens, and he strongly favored “self deportation” by those who illegally entered the country.
However, Romney’s campaign has purchased substantial advertising time for Spanish-language advertisements expected to accuse Obama of broken promises on immigration and that blame him for economic conditions that have left millions of Hispanics in poverty.
The unemployment rate among Latinos is 10.3 percent, far above the 7.3 percent national average, while as many as 28.2 percent of Latinos fall below the poverty level, according to the Census Bureau’s new Supplemental Poverty Measure, which uses an unusually broad range of measurements for determining poverty.
What’s more, Obama set new records for deporting undocumented immigrants during his three and a half years in office and he failed to pass the DREAM Act to provide many illegal immigrants with a pathway to a green card or citizenship -- let alone the comprehensive immigration reform he promised. In January, a Latino Decisions poll found 53 percent of Latino voters were "less enthusiastic" about Obama than in 2009.
While Monday’s Gallup poll concluded that the Republican National Convention had a minimum impact on Romney’s chances to win in November, the Republican nominee may have gained some traction among Latino voters.
Twenty-six percent of registered Latino voters said they would vote for Romney before the convention, but this week’s impreMedia-Latino Decisions tracking poll puts him at 30 percent – the former Massachusetts governor and businessman’s highest level of Latino support yet.