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Commentary: Angle shows Latinos she's no Reagan

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SAN DIEGO -- Ronald Reagan said that Hispanics don't have to be told to vote Republican. Given their conservative values, they already are Republican. They just don't know it.

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In his 1984 re-election, Reagan got nearly 40 percent of the Hispanic vote. Typically, anytime a Republican gets over 30 percent with Hispanics, it's lights out for the Democratic opponent.

Today, in the Nevada Senate race, supporters of Republican candidate Sharron Angle have a different and less optimistic message for Hispanic voters: "Don't vote."

In a state where about 30 percent of the population is Hispanic, and Hispanics accounted for 15 percent of voters in 2008, some Republicans are so sure that the former Nevada assemblywoman has so little to offer Hispanics that they're trying to supress the turnout of Hispanic votes.

It's a cynical play, but a smart one given the hand Nevada Republicans have been dealt. Angle is no Ronald Reagan. She's one of the most effective repellents to Hispanic voters the GOP has ever produced -- and this is saying a lot.

First, Angle's campaign puts up a series of despicable, Willie Horton-type television ads accusing her Democratic opponent, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, of giving special breaks to illegal immigrants and casting Latinos in the starring role.

Then, when Angle is called out for the blatantly anti-Latino ads by a group of Latino students during a visit to a Las Vegas high school, she plays dumb and pretends she doesn't even know what a Latino looks like -- despite the inconvenient fact that she has grandsons who are half-Mexican. Then, Angle adds chili to the taco and prompts gasps from the audience by telling the students: "You know, I don't know that all of you are Latino. Some of you look ... more Asian to me."

I'm speechless. Those ridiculous comments take racial profiling to a new and more absurd level.

Voter suppression efforts are a lot sneakier than they used to be. Who needs poll workers asking folks to guess the number of beans in a jar or how many bubbles are on a bar of soap when you can just produce and try to air a phony Spanish-language ad intended to fool Hispanics into staying home.

The organization Latinos for Reform -- directed by Robert de Posada, former head of Hispanic outreach for the Republican National Committee -- prepared a 90-second spot urging Hispanics to punish elected officials for not passing immigration reform. The ad goes like this:

"This November we need to send a message to all politicians: If they didn't keep their promise on immigration reform, then they can't count on our vote. ... Don't vote this November. This is the only way to send them a clear message: You can no longer take us for granted. Don't vote."

There doesn't seem to be a direct connection between the ad -- which was so controversial that Univision, the Spanish-language television network, refused to air it -- and the Angle campaign. And yet Latinos are overwhelmingly registered as Democrats, so the practical effect of not voting would be to help elect Angle.

The argument behind the ad sounds familiar. A few weeks ago, in response to poll data suggesting that Latinos are so disillusioned over President Obama's broken promise to make immigration reform a priority that many of them are likely to sit out the upcoming elections, I suggested this wasn't such a bad thing. If Latinos stay home, I argued, it could teach Democrats a lesson and get them to stop taking Latinos for granted.

But motives matter. I was trying to help Latino voters become more relevant in the political system. I wasn't trying to help Republicans.

Nor would I ever support a Republican such as Angle, who has managed to do what once seemed impossible. She has made Harry Reid -- who, political insiders will tell you, killed immigration reform in the Senate in 2006 and 2007 to please organized labor -- the best choice for Hispanics in Nevada.

Ruben Navarrette's e-mail address is rnavarrette@wctrib.com.

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