Hispanics are about to spice up the presidential election.
The party primaries have been underway for two weeks, and yet so far we haven’t heard much from America’s largest minority. While there are 46 million Hispanics in this country, representing about 15 percent of the U.S. population, not many of them live in Iowa, New Hampshire, Wyoming, or Michigan.
You will, however, find plenty of them in Nevada. Twelve percent of the population of the Silver State is Hispanic, and it’s there that voters will gather Saturday in caucuses to choose their nominee.
Nevada is also a trial run for the bonanza of primaries taking place on Feb. 5. It’s on that day that primaries will occur in 23 states, many of them — including California, New York, Illinois, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico — with sizable Hispanic populations.
So the candidates are cozying up to Hispanic voters — with mixed results.
Last week, Hillary Clinton assured Hispanic voters in Las Vegas that she would continue to support comprehensive immigration reform that provides the undocumented with a path to legalization. And when a man in the crowd shouted that his wife was illegal, Clinton shouted back: “no woman is illegal.” The crowd cheered.
Meanwhile, Barack Obama tried to challenge the spirit of the late United Farm Workers Union president Cesar Chavez and talked about his early days as a community organizer. He even borrowed Chavez’ signature line — “Si Se Puede” — to try to convince his followers that anything is possible.
On the other side of the aisle, the campaign of Republican Mitt Romney has for months sent out Spanish-language press releases. Conspicuously absent is any mention of immigration, the same issue that Romney exploited in English-language television ads in Iowa and New Hampshire. Talk about being able to speak two languages.
But that’s nothing compared to the contradictions involving Democrats in Nevada and a couple of warring unions. The first shot came when Obama scored a major endorsement from the 60,000-member Culinary Workers Union, whose membership is heavily Hispanic. About ten casinos on the Las Vegas Strip have announced that they will allow workers to cast ballots onsite at their workplace to accommodate those who work on Saturday. That could mean high turnout of voters supportive of Obama.
And so the state teachers union — whose leaders support Hillary Clinton — brought a lawsuit, challenging the fairness of what the casinos have proposed and asking that the workplace voting sites be shut down. Team Clinton was careful to insist that they weren’t behind the suit, but Bill Clinton couldn’t resist acknowledging his support for it.
On Thursday, a federal judge delivered the Obama camp a victory and the Clinton camp a defeat when he ruled in favor of the Culinary union and ordered the caucuses to proceed as planned.
That Clinton supporters had the nerve to try to suppress the vote of Obama supporters outraged a third party outfit calling itself The Unite Here Campaign Committee. On behalf of the Culinary Workers Union, the committee allegedly funded a Spanish-language radio ad accusing Hillary Clinton and her supporters of showing disrespect for Hispanic workers by trying to take away their voice.
Bravo. That was a cannon blast, and a well-deserved one at that. The teachers union and their enablers within Team Clinton ought to be ashamed. Aren’t Democrats the ones who always accuse Republicans of trying to suppress the votes of minorities? What happened to that song and dance? Winning elections is fine, but it shouldn’t require losing your principles.
And to think, as far as the Hispanic primaries are concerned, we’re just getting started.
Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a member of the editorial board of the San Diego Union Tribune, a nationally syndicated columnist, a frequent lecturer and a regular contributor to CNN.com and National Public Radio.