Hispanic Vice President in 2016? Here’s What I Think: Lawrence

Posted: Apr 22 2014

San Antonio's dynamic young mayor Julian Castro has received an enormous amount of hype of late. It started with his appearance at the Democratic National Convention last September, when he became the first Hispanic ever to deliver a keynote address. Since then, Democrats have been touting Castro as “another Obama,” suggesting that he might one day become the nation’s first Hispanic president.   A recent Latino Decisions poll found that a whopping 32% of Hispanic voters would be more likely to vote for the Democratic ticket in 2016 with Castro aboard.   That's an eye-opening statistic, but while Castro’s a rising star, with growing name recognition, I doubt we’ll see him in the VP slot….in 2016.

Oh Yes, First There’s the “Palin” factor
Remember all the fanfare when Republican John McCain chose the former Alaska governor as his running mate in 2008? It seemed like a gutsy forward-looking move until people got a closer look at Sarah Palin, and realized how “green” she was. Castro, like Palin, can deliver a good speech – but he’s not an experienced national-level politician – and it still shows.   Hispanics may already recognize him – but most Americans don’t.   In fact, he’s not even well-known throughout Texas. Many Democrats say he’s so green, they don’t even think he should run for statewide office yet – let alone be on the national ticket.

American voters take the vice-presidency quite seriously. In contrast to past years, when the position was largely ceremonial, these days vice presidents actually help the president govern.   Joe Biden is often Obama’s cleanup guy, who makes sure things get done. Voters also expect the VP to be fully qualified to replace the president in the event of a succession crisis.   Despite having been a popular and effective governor, most voters couldn’t imagine Sarah Palin as president. To be sure, Castro probably won’t wilt under the glare of the national spotlight the way Palin did.   But, the same basic questions about his “readiness” will remain.

A Crowded Spotlight & "Graybeards"
Castro faces another obstacle: with Hillary Clinton widely expected to be the Democratic nominee, he's unlikely to be the party’s only "breakthrough" candidate.   Is America really ready for the first woman and the first Hispanic on the same national ticket? No party has ever taken the risk of running for the presidency without a White Anglo male somewhere on the ticket.   Even Barack Obama, for all his ethnic crossover appeal, chose a “graybeard” like Joe Biden as his VP, in part to reassure wavering White voters.

If the Democrats choose Clinton, which still seems likely, it would be risky, demographically, to pair her with Castro.   Even with the Obama precedent, too much change too fast might well be viewed as threatening by many “mainstream” voters, especially at a time when the country faces such daunting challenges.  

Moreover, thanks to lingering concerns over Benghazi, questions are likely to be raised about Clinton's tenure at the State Department. A VP candidate like Castro, with no national security experience of his own, will do little to shore up her tarnished image.   In the final analysis, that may be all that counts.

Ok, So If Not Castro, Who?
Castro isn’t the only top Hispanic that Clinton, or another Democrat, might choose from. The other prime candidate is Antonio Villaraigosa, the former mayor of Los Angeles. Los Angeles is a lot larger than San Antonio, and managing it well, as Villaraigosa did, gives him serious bragging rights. But California is already in the “Blue” camp, so unlike Castro, he won’t necessarily help the ticket capture a key state. He’s also older and far less dynamic and charismatic than Castro.   And there are a number of possible “skeletons” in his closet. 

Still, Villaraigosa or even Castro might become a serious option under one possible scenario: if the Republicans choose their own Hispanic VP. Currently, the GOP has three attractive and increasingly visible Hispanics to choose from: Florida senator Marco Rubio, New Mexico governor Susana Martinez and Nevada governor Brian Sandoval. In fact, Mitt Romney nearly put Rubio on the ticket in 2012. The GOP is trying to play “catch-up” with Hispanic voters after their disastrous showings in 2008 and especially 2012.   There are factions that want to see the party embrace immigration reform. If that happens, the GOP is likely to be highly competitive with Hispanics in 2016, a recent poll shows.

I Say Unlikely, But Stay Tuned
In short, while the odds are against Castro or even Villaraigosa getting the VP slot, it’s still early and much will depend on what Republicans choose to do.   The fact that both parties are considering Hispanic running mates is a clear indication of how rapidly the nation’s politics is evolving. Hispanics – once America’s “Sleeping Giant” – are not only awake, but standing tall. 

-Stewart Lawrence
Stewart is a political analyst, author, and writer for Hispanic.com

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