Rubio brings GOP hope with Hispanics
LAS CRUCES, N.M. — Sorry, Washington superstar, Time magazine coverboy and hip-hop maven, she’s never heard of you.
“Marco Rubio?” said 28-year-old Memorie Annese, taking her daughters to a public library in this city tucked amid soaring mountains and the Rio Grande.
But the Mexican-American, school bus-driving union member who voted for President Barack Obama didn’t hesitate when asked if she would consider a Republican candidate with immigrant roots.
“Heck yeah — if he’s good,” Annese said. “There’s a connection.”
As the Florida senator explores a presidential run, her reaction undercuts Democratic assertions that non-Cuban Hispanics “don’t give a damn about Marco Rubio,” as Obama strategist David Plouffe said recently.
Interviews with voters in Hispanic-rich New Mexico, which Obama won twice, and Texas, a Republican bastion inching Democratic, suggest that Rubio could inspire goodwill and pride among minorities who shunned the GOP in the past two presidential elections.
“Having a president who is Hispanic, I can’t even explain it,” said Esmirna Corona, a college student in El Paso. “If people see Rubio is Hispanic, they’ll take time to check him out. With Mitt Romney, I was like no. Then I looked at his position on immigration and was like definitely not.”
The 2012 election forced a Republican reckoning with the changing face of America. Obama took 71 percent of the Hispanic vote, crucial to his victory over Romney, who said he wanted to make it so hard on immigrants they would choose “self-deportation.” White male voters, the lifeblood of the GOP, are declining as a share of the electorate while Hispanics are rising: 50,000 turn 18 every month.
It is against this rapidly changing backdrop that, Rubio, the 41-year-old bilingual son of working-class immigrants from Cuba, has staked his claim as the GOP’s pied piper, using his charisma and biography to form a new version of hope and change to bring youth and diversity into the Republican fold.