Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush stand out among the 2016 pack at the campaign stops for one particular reason.
Between handshakes, photo-ops, and even in their own presidential announcement speeches, the Floridians can communicate with voters in a way other candidates can't match. That's because Senator Rubio and former Governor Bush are fluent Spanish speakers.
About 38% of Latinos in the United States mainly speak Spanish while another 36% are bilingual, according to a 2015 Pew Research Center report. With the Latino electorate already making up the population majority in states like California, presidential candidates are deploying specific strategies to capture their vote now more than ever.
In his presidential announcement, Rubio spoke about the trials his family went through after coming to the United States. In Spanish, Rubio told the audience what his father told him, translating: “In this country, you will achieve all the things we never could.”
The Rubio campaign told IJReview that the message is universal:
“We believe that his message about helping more people achieve the American Dream works with all audiences. The fact that he can deliver it in fluent Spanish obviously helps.”
Spanish-speaking roots for fellow Floridian Bush go back as far as a high school trip to Mexico and remain tethered to him through his marriage to Mexican-American Columba Bush. His bilingual work continued on through his tenure as Governor of the state of Florida.
This makes sense, because Florida has the third largest Latino population in any state, according to a Pew report.
When answering questions about issues that matter to Latino voters and activists, Bush has the ability to answer like this:
It's not only language that allows Bush to tap into these communities.
Just before a Las Vegas town hall on racial justice last week, Bush held an unpublicized forum with Latino leaders over the phone, the campaign told IJReview. It included officials from the Latin American Chamber of Commerce, Nevadan Latinos in the political scene, and Latino small business owners. Nevada, an early voting state, has a population that's over a quarter Latino.
Emily Benavides, a spokesperson for the campaign, said:
“Governor Bush has the very unique ability to resonate not only linguistically but culturally. And that's something that's going to be very useful for him.”
The effort to resonate across an often-assumed cultural divide between Republicans and minorities is nothing new, but it's something Republicans have prioritized ahead of the 2016 election.
LIBRE Initiative President Daniel Garza told IJReview the shift is deliberate and, for some candidates, it's working:
"The GOP has a great slate of candidates. They're so diverse. Women, Black, Hispanic, and now even the non-Latino Anglo candidates recognize that they have to engage.
Rand Paul has been in minority communities. Chris Chrisitie got 52% of the Latino vote in New Jersey — of Puerto Ricans. You know that's saying something."
Being able to speak in a voter's native tongue, and offer up a candidate who can claim a shared experience with Latino immigrants helps to legitimize the GOP's tactic. The new efforts offer Republicans a chance to connect with a previously improbable voter community.
“People can relate to that,” Garza added. “And if you can say that in Spanish, yeah, it gives you an advantage.”