Ted Cruz is the first high profile 2016 presidential contender to officially announce his candidacy. Cruz is a Republican, but his outspoken political viewpoints differ greatly from the GOP establishment. He’s more of a fringe Tea Party candidate who’s worked his way to the mainstream by appealing to the growing crowd of conservative activists.
Cruz also has an interesting backstory. He was born in Canada to an American mother and a Cuban father, and his family relocated to Texas soon thereafter. He’s the first Hispanic and Cuban-American person to serve as senator in his home state. He staunchly opposes Obama’s immigration reform, which doesn’t quite make sense considering his background, but there’s no doubt that his roots will appeal to the United States’ growing Latino voting populations.
Republicans have slowly been realizing the importance of appealing to that population. During his 2012 campaign, Mitt Romney infamously talked about his Mexican roots, suggesting he’d have an easier time beating Obama if he were actually Latino. Marco Rubio, another Cuban-American senator, has also quickly ascended to the limelight of the Republican Party. Jeb Bush is fluent in Spanish and his wife is Hispanic. In 1998, he received 61 percent of Florida’s Latino vote.
According to U.S. Census data, there are 54 million Hispanic people living in the United States. That represents 17 percent of the total population. According to the Pew Research Center, a record 25.2 million Latinos were eligible to vote in the 2014 midterm elections, representing 11 percent of all eligible voters.
Despite the conservatism of many Latino voters, the group has still overwhelmingly supported Democratic presidential candidates in recent years. In 2012, Latino voters gave Obama 71 percent of their vote compared to 27 percent toward Romney. Still, the fact that the Latino population is so large and diverse (and willing to skew toward the right) has made them the most attractive target for the Republican Party.
Ted Cruz is forthright about his Hispanic roots, but he hasn’t fully embraced them in the way other candidates might have. In 2012, he refused to conduct a debate in Spanish (citing his poor Spanish skills and the fact that most Texans speak English). His views on immigration, again, are inconsistent with his family’s background. In announcing his run for president, however, he released a Spanish-language YouTube video, entitled “Ted Cruz para Presidente.”
It’s an obvious attempt to attract Latino voters, something that’s going to be increasingly commonplace amongst GOP contenders as the race continues. Hopefully, someone else will step into the ring and offer some alternatives. As of now, Cruz is the first out of the gate. It will be interesting to see how much he touts his Hispanic background as the race continues.