With Latino voters, Ryan may hurt Romney more than he helps

August 15, 2012

If Latinos are the great swing voters of 2012, what does Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as the GOP's VP candidate mean? And where, if anywhere, will Ryan have an impact with Latinos?

Because he represents Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District, which is more than 90 percent white and only about 6 percent Hispanic, Rep. Ryan has not had a need to address issues with Latinos in mind, or with a message tailored in any special way for them.

So what does Ryan think about the issues important to Latinos?

According to a June 2012 Gallup poll, U.S. Hispanics are most concerned about (in this order) healthcare, unemployment, immigration, economic growth, the gap between the rich and the poor and the deficit.

Beck Research did a study at about the same time that echoed roughly the same sentiments with one crucial exception: Education.

But according to DailyPolitical.com, “When the choice was given of focusing just on improving the economy versus making education better to help the economy, 53% of the Hispanic voters thought that improving education across the board in the country is crucial in helping to improve the economy. Just 44% of those surveyed believe that improving the economy should be the biggest priority of all."

Where is Ryan on education?

* He voted for No Child Left Behind, the Bush program that created super federal oversight over states and school districts. (His own website, however, says this: “Stagnant student achievement levels and exploding deficits have demonstrated that massive amounts of federal funding and top-down interventions are not the way to provide America’s students with a high-quality education.” So he’s both for and against a strong federal role in education.)

* He supports vouchers to allow students to go to private schools and for profit colleges (he also voted against a Department of Education measure that would stop for profit colleges from promoting misleading information about themselves).

* He voted against the specific section of the stimulus that designated money to avoid teacher lay-offs and provide funds for Head Start.

A prominent part of Romney’s platform, with which Ryan agrees, is the elimination of Obamacare (a carbon copy of Romney’s healthcare initiative as governor in Massachusetts). Ryan’s own proposed economic plan calls for deep cuts to Medicare.

But according to polls conducted by Latino Decisions/Univisión News, U.S. Hispanics are overwhelmingly in favor of a federal healthcare program and against cuts in Medicare.

* 57 percent of Latinos want Obamacare to stand as is.

* 73 percent oppose cuts to Medicare, and that includes 70 percent of Latino Republicans and 73 percent of Latinos in Florida. Sixty percent — including 63 percent in Florida — believe the government should provide health insurance.

And on the economy?

Only 31 percent of Latinos want tax cuts, and 55 percent want more government investment in public projects, including education and infrastructure.

Ryan's no help with immigration issues either. He voted against the DREAM Act and his web page is an anti-immigrantion buff's dream.

In fact, Ryan has the potential to make even the GOP’s most loyal Latinos nervous. (That would be Cuban-Americans in Florida; they constitute 72 percent of GOP voters in Miami-Dade County). Support for the economic embargo on Cuba — sacred to the dependable (though shrinking) older Cuban-American community — and strong (but toothless) anti-Castro rhetoric has always been a given for Republicans appealing to Cuban voters in Miami since John F. Kennedy screwed up the Bay of Pigs.

But Ryan, representing an agriculture state eager to sell to Cuba, has voted three times to end the embargo. (I’m with him on this one!)

In a recent Miami Herald story, former Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart said, “[Ryan] was a free-trader and we explained to him the human-rights and terrorist record of the Cuban dictatorship. His record ever since is one of a strong supporter for freedom in Cuba. He is a strong ally.”

Except I can’t find that “strong record” anywhere. And as recently as 2009, Ryan publicly questioned the need for the embargo.

At the end of the day, I can’t find a single area in which Ryan helps Romney with Latinos, and in at least the crucial state of Florida, Ryan’s negatives are strong enough to actually lose votes.

Nice work, governor.