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Bill Maxwell

Rubio's name alone won't get it done

Either it's ignorance or plain old stupidity. I don't know what else to call Republicans' simplistic view of people of Spanish and Latin American origins in the United States. But it will spell trouble for Republicans as they try to win over the country's fastest-growing minority.

A few days ago, Rush Limbaugh got into the act, suggesting on his radio show that Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, son of Cuban exiles, is the man to retake the White House in 2012.

Limbaugh's rationale: "Rubio would win in a walkover. He's conservative. He's articulate. He's good-looking. He's Hispanic and sounds very smart. How can he possibly lose? If this were the Democrat Party, the party father would probably tell Obama to step aside and let Rubio run, if Rubio were a Democrat. There are more Hispanic voters now than there are blacks."

Like so many other conservatives, Limbaugh talks as though people of Spanish and Latin American origins are all the same. In this case, the suggestion is that they automatically will turn out en masse to support Rubio because of his surname.

Limbaugh and other Republicans have a lot to learn about the people in this coveted population. They aren't all the same.

St. Petersburg resident Michelle Gray worries that Limbaugh and others easily lump all people of Hispanic backgrounds together.

"I am Bolivian-American," she said. "When people ask me where I'm from, I tell them I was born in Bolivia to explain my accent and look. I tell them I am a cocktail since my American father is Cherokee, English and French, and my Bolivian mother is Aymaran and Spaniard. I consider myself to be Hispanic and Latino, but neither term is completely correct because the word Hispanic comes from the name of Spain, a major colonizer of Bolivia. Not all South American countries were colonized by Spain. Brazil was colonized by Portugal."

But more than names and language distinctions are involved in the ethnic minefield Limbaugh and the GOP have entered, Gray said.

There's politics, raw distinctions of identity and stances on issues that Republicans are ignoring or are treating as insignificant differences that can be fixed with smooth talk. Indeed, the politics of immigration reform may prove to be the Achilles' heel for the GOP, and it very well may bring Rubio back down to Earth.

Immigration reform puts the differences among Hispanics in sharp relief. Many Republicans on the national scene don't seem to know that Rubio and his evolving views on immigration anger many Hispanics outside the Sunshine State. As speaker of the Florida House, Rubio remained silent or blocked many of the immigration bills his GOP colleagues in Tallahassee proposed. When he campaigned against then-Gov. Charlie Crist for the U.S. Senate, however, he changed. And since going to Washington, he has flip-flopped on several key issues and legislation, including the Dream Act and tuition breaks for children of undocumented workers.

By becoming a hard-liner on immigration reform, he has endeared himself to party leaders, the rank and file and the tea party crowd. And he has not lost many friends among Cuban-Americans, who reside mostly in Miami-Dade County and who consider him one of their own. Like them, Rubio and his family enjoy the privileges handed to Cuban immigrants who, upon arriving to U.S. shores by boat or raft, are allowed to become resident aliens and, within five years, can apply for their citizenship documents.

No other Hispanic group has it so easy with the U.S. State Department. For that reason, many Hispanics in states such as California, Texas, Arizona, Alabama and Georgia — where immigration reform is a hot issue and where many immigrants come from Mexico and Central and South America — see Rubio as a smooth-talking Judas.

It will take more than a surname to persuade many Hispanics outside Florida who are not Cuban to support the GOP and Rubio.

Rubio's name alone won't get it done 10/07/11 [Last modified: Friday, October 7, 2011 7:06pm]

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