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Is Rubio’s Victory A Sign Of A Latino Voter Shift?

Susan Shimotsu |
November 2, 2010 | 9:14 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter


Marco Rubio (Creative Commons)
Marco Rubio (Creative Commons)
On a historic night for Republican Tea Party winner Marco Rubio of Florida, Neon Tommy reporter Susan Shimotsu spoke with UC Irvine professor Louis DeSipio to talk about Latinos in Florida leaning right and what it means for Rubio on a national stage. 

Q: A CNN poll reported that Latinos in Florida favored GOP candidates for this election after favoring Barack Obama in 2008. Why do you think they switched? Is this attitude restricted to Florida?

DeSipio: Latinos in Florida have traditionally supported the GOP in the 1970s and 1980s. What was unusual was that Obama did so well; 2008 was the exception.

Generally, Latinos outside of Florida support Democrats. It won’t surprise me if Latinos outside of Florida, such as in California or Illinois, supported Democrats in this election.

Q:  Over the years, any significant Latino turnout for the GOP has been considered an exception. Why is that? Do you think they would ever switch over permanently? 

DeSipio: The Democratic Party typically speaks to issues of education, expanding resources for education and immigration issues. A second reason is that most local elected officials that are Latino are Democrat. If they see a Latino face, they’re more likely to be Democrat. 

“Ever” is way too tough to call, but not anytime soon. African Americans used to be Republicans, but it took 100 years and now they’re solidly Democrats. In the realistic near future, Latinos will probably be even more likely to be Democrats.

Q: There are already murmurs that Sen.-elect Rubio would be a great pick for VP, and possibly president. So far he’s denied it, but could you see him accepting in two years? What do you think his chances are? Would traditionally Democratic Latinos be willing to break party lines to uphold ethnic/cultural lines?

DeSipio: I suspect he would say "yes" if he were given the opportunity. My suspicion is he would not be asked in 2012 because it would be too early in his service. It would also depend on the nominee who asked him. For example, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, might want a more urban East Coast kind of candidate like Rubio. Selections will take account of ethnicity, but that would not be the end all.

Later in his service, he may be [a viable candidate].The vast majority of Latinos would still vote Democrat, because of the issues. For example, he’s taken strident stances against immigration reform, which many Latino Democrats value as an issue.

Q: Today, Rubio said the biggest issue for Latinos is “economic empowerment.” Do you agree? If not, what do you think is the biggest Latino issue?

DeSipio: At least according to polling, the biggest Latino issue is access to education, both at the K-12 and higher levels. They’re certainly concerned with economics, but education is more important. 

To reach staff reporter Susan Shimotsu, click here.
Follow her on Twitter: @susanfromtx.
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