Tampa, Fla. – On Wednesday night, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez and Puerto Rico‘s Republican Governor Luis Fortuño came out swinging against President Obama‘s policies and rallied the Republican National Convention crowd over a message of less government and “tough choices.” This was done against a backdrop of personal stories and a clear acknowledgment of the country’s growing Latino population.
In this respect, the clear star of the evening was Governor Susana Martinez, who had everybody in the convention floor talking about her speech for the rest of the evening.
“I never imagined a girl from a border town could one day become a governor,” said Governor Martinez to cheers, “but this is America. Y en America, todo es posible (everything is possible),” she said to wide applause. The gun-toting former prosecutor, who as she said saw the worst while covering child abuse cases, related how her humble parents risked everything to start a business. She also talked of her switch from Democrat to Republican – and how she thought that could never happen, until she realized the party appealed to her.
Martinez then proceeded to rally the crowd by assailing President Obama’s policies. “He promised to bring us all together, to cut unemployment, to pass immigration reform in his first year and even promised to cut the deficit in half in his first term,” said the New Mexico governor. “He hasn’t even come close,” she added, touting her achievements in reducing the budget in her state.
Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuño, a conservative Republican, received a warm reception. “Buenos Noches Puerto Rico! Buenas Noches America!” said Fortuño. “You and I know there is a better way, and like many conservative governors-we are proving it,” he said. Fortuño spoke of measures he enacted in Puerto Rico -including the largest tax cuts in Puerto Rico’s history and steep spending cuts- as contributing to a decrease in the island’s deficit. The administration did impose a steep sales tax and other measures which have been praised by some but deeply opposed by others.
The most awaited speech, however, was the one by the man who would be a heartbeat away from the presidency – Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan. The Republican vice presidential candidate is mainly known for two things – he is very socially conservative (he sponsored a “personhood” amendment which considers even some contraception or in-vitro treatments as the equivalent of abortion) and he proposed a budget with steep cuts in health, education, transportation and services, while lowering taxes. Ryan also proposed phasing Medicare into a voucher system. He argues this is the only way to make a dent in the growing deficit.
“We will not duck the tough issues – we will lead,” said Ryan to wide applause. Ryan strongly criticized Obama’s health care legislation, saying “Obamacare comes to more than two thousand pages of rules, mandates, taxes, fees and fines that have no place in a free country,” said Ryan to cheers. Ryan also delivered a few zingers at Obama, saying he did not want graduating college students living forever in their parents’ basements “with posters of Barack Obama on the wall.” Ryan also went for the “age” thing, saying he was a “different generation” than Obama and even making fun of Obama’s iPod music picks.
During his speech journalists and social media sites were busy calling Ryan on a number of inaccurate statements, such as decrying Obama’s stimulus, though he asked for funds for his district. Ryan also said Obama would take away billions from Medicare – the same amount which would be taken away in his proposed budget. He also blamed Obama’s policies on a GM plant closure in his hometown of Wisconsin – though the plant had closed before Obama took office.
Curiously, though Latinos and women are big voting blocks which the GOP is trying to attract, the vice presidential candidate made no attempt in his speech to acknowledge these groups.
Former Commerce Secretary and Juntos Con Romney co-chair Carlos Gutierrez said Paul Ryan is the right VP pick, and commended his knowledge and experience. Among Latinos, though, Ryan has not resonated – at least not yet. Latino Decisions released the first tracking poll on Hispanic registered voters’ opinion of Paul Ryan and his budget proposals. Twenty two percent of Hispanics have a favorable view toward Ryan, compared to 38 percent who have an unfavorable view. Nineteen percent say don’t know enough, and 22 percent say they have never heard of Ryan.
Ryan aside, his message and platform might be a harder sell among Latino voters, according to recent polls. The Latino Decisions poll finds seventy three percent of Latino voters oppose any cuts to Medicare, and 85 percent of Latinos support the Dream Act, which Ryan opposes. Though over half of Hispanics oppose abortion, a majority supports birth control as well as accessibility to birth control.
The message of “less government at all costs” can be a potential minefield for Latino voters, since most do not see government as bad, according to political scientist Matt Barreto. “We find when we poll Latinos that the average family does not want government to do things for them, but government plays a big role,” says Barreto. “The average person takes a kid to public school, takes a bus or drives a road, and does not see that as ‘big government,'” he adds.
Some Latino Republicans thought the GOP has to be mindful of its tone. “I think one of the failures of my Republican party has been to use very strong language on the issue of government services” says Luz Urbaez Weinberg, commissioner of Aventura, Florida.
But Bertica Cabrera Morris, of the Juntos con Romney campaign, is more optimistic the GOP message can resonate with Latinos. “we are sitting at the table with Mitt Romney. We are there with him, as he drafts his policies.”
Today, it’s Marco Rubio’s turn to introduce Romney, and make another case for the GOP platform to Latinos, as the convention comes to a close tonight.