Forget Rachel, Bill, Anderson, and Sean. The broadcaster who will most determine the 2012 elections is Jorge Ramos.
Here, too, a major force pushing against the GOP’s plan is Univision. For the past six years, the company has run a program with a handful of other national Hispanic organizations called Ya Es Hora (It Is Time) to encourage Latinos to become citizens and to register to vote. Voter-registration rates among Hispanics are already down this year, in part because Latinos tend to vote for Democrats, who aren’t holding a contested presidential primary. And there are signs that apathy is taking root within the Latino community in light of the economy and the lack of forward momentum on immigration reform. In all, there are 8 million unregistered Latino citizens, and Univision is planning a major campaign that will include town halls, public service announcements, and local events designed to motivate them to get involved. Their operation promises to be as sophisticated as that of either political party. “We have to find a way of convincing [Latinos] that their vote counts,” Salinas says. “We’re going to do it by showing them, county by county, state by state, in the cities where their vote would have made a difference if they had registered.”
Another option for the GOP is, of course, for the party’s presidential nominee to choose a Hispanic running mate. And the name most often floated is Marco Rubio. Whether Rubio is the savior many in the party think he is remains to be seen. On the one hand, he is a fresh face and an effective speaker with strong conservative positions that also make him a favorite with the Tea Party base. On the other hand, he has some baggage, including a history of making false claims about his parents having left Cuba as political refugees (they came to the United States before Castro took power) as well as a record of opposition to the DREAM Act and other immigration-reform efforts. Some polls have shown that a quarter of the Hispanic electorate would consider voting for the GOP ticket if Rubio is the vice presidential candidate. Other polls suggest that he would draw few Latinos, or could even hurt the ticket.
Cognizant of his, and his party’s, weakness on immigration, Rubio is working on a compromise version of the DREAM Act with other Republican senators. If such legislation can get a hearing or even pass with bipartisan support this summer or fall, it could conceivably soften Latino voters’ attitudes about the GOP. The problem for Rubio is that any bill that opens the door even slightly for undocumented immigrants to become legal is liable to stir up the conservative base. And at the same time, a legalization option that is too narrow will be unlikely to impress many Latino voters, and certainly won’t draw the support of many Democratic lawmakers.
One thing’s for sure: between now and November, the venue where these issues will be discussed in the greatest detail, in front of the audience that matters most, is Univision. Which means, among other things, that at some point Rubio will have to face Ramos. “I’ll keep on calling him,” Ramos says. “That’s what I keep on doing with the pope, and that’s what I keep on doing with Marco Rubio.” It also means something else. As in any election year, pundits and political professionals are sure to spend countless hours in the coming months watching outlets like Fox, MSNBC, and CNN with a keen eye toward how their coverage might influence the outcome. But this year, the network most likely to actually have that effect is one that barely any of them watch, and that speaks a language few of them understand.
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