Tonight’s expected political slugfest, otherwise known as the vice presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan, is going to be closely watched as the two parties hope their candidate emerges as a clear winner. With the presidential race pretty much neck and neck, Latino party loyalists and analysts will be closely watching tonight’s debate performance in Kentucky.
“For us the big thing tonight is to really call out Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan on the switches they’ve been making lately on the extreme positions they have been holding,” says the DNC’s Senior Advisor for Hispanic Affairs, Juan Sepúlveda. He says there are four areas of interest to Latino families which he hopes Biden can hit Ryan on: what Sepúlveda calls the ’5 trillion dollar gap’ created by the proposed Romney-Ryan tax cuts, the fact that 9 million Latinos will gain health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, which the Romney/Ryan ticket wants to repeal, the Administration’s increase in Pell Grants and early education, which Sepúlveda says has resulted in an historic number of Latinos entering college, and immigration, specifically President Obama’s deferred action plan and his support for the Dream Act and immigration reform.
“Biden will spend a lot of time telling folks directly that Mitt Romney will say anything to win, and voters should not fall for this last-minute change,” says Sepúlveda.
Democratic Senator Robert Menéndez, who is also facing re-election this November, says, “It will be interesting to see if Paul Ryan adopts his running mate’s strategy of hiding his conservative positions or if Ryan will actually stand by the extreme positions he has taken as the ‘intellectual leader’ of the Republican Party,” adding Biden “should talk about how the Democratic party is working hard to defend, protect and strengthen Medicare and Social Security from those like Ryan, who are trying to end Medicare as we know it.”
On the Republican side, Romney supporter Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, says Ryan “should explain how the policies of this Administration have prolonged this period of slow economic growth and very little job creation, as well as a government which proposes increasing taxes on small business owners who file their taxes as individuals, which is going to have an incredible impact on job creation.”
Aguilar says Ryan should not be on the defensive about his proposal to cut domestic programs to balance the budget. “Our budget proposal is about saving the safety net, and it’s precisely Obama’s policies which will make the safety net insolvent,” he adds. “Ryan is a young, articulate leader, and I think he should not be defensive; he should be aggressive but respectful,” says Aguilar.
The debate will focus not only on domestic issues, but on foreign policy, too. Here it is expected that Democrats will stress the fact they have kept the country safe and, more importantly, killed Osama bin Laden. Aguilar says Republicans should hit Democrats “on their cover-up on what happened in Libya.”
RNC Latina spokesperson Alexandra Franceschi says she hopes congressman Paul Ryan’s performance tonight “will show a clear contrast between a dynamic, pro-growth Romney-Ryan ticket, in contrast to the same, failed policies of the Obama/Biden administration.”
Latino political scientist Allert Brown-Gort, a faculty fellow at the Kellogg Institute for International Studies at the University of Notre Dame, says both candidates have to watch their style. “For Ryan, he needs not to get rattled; he has gotten rattled when people challenge him on the fact he doesn’t give specific on numbers when he talks about some of his budget proposals,” explains Brown-Gort. “For Biden, he likes to ‘shoot from the lip’ and he is going to have to stick to pre-approved remarks without looking unconstrained, because an unconstrained Biden is a joy to watch,” says a smiling Brown-Gort.
How can the candidates appeal to Latinos? Brown-Gort expects both candidates, who are practicing Catholics, will stress issues of family which can resonate with voters, whether it be values, education or health care. These last two, says Brown-Gort, are especially important to Latinos, such as how to expand higher education opportunities, and they will both defend their party’s version of the best way to save Medicare.
In terms of immigration, says Brown-Gort, the question is whether it will come up, given the debate format includes domestic and foreign issues. If it does come up, says Brown-Gort, it could prove very interesting, since immigration is the kind of issue which not only interests those who support the Dream Act or immigration reform, but to Tea Party activists who have very different views on the issue. “Put it this way, if immigration does come up, my ears will surely perk up, to see who the candidates are trying to address,” says Brown-Gort.