News Column

Democrats in 2016? Don't Overlook Hispanics

Sept. 11, 2012

DeWayne Wickham

LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa
LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa

As their highly successful convention drew to a close, Democrats -- and a lot of political pundits -- could be heard talking about what comes next.

Not next in terms of the current presidential campaign, the one that pits Mitt Romney against Barack Obama. By next, I mean the White House race four years from now. Regardless of the outcome of this year's contest, Democrats will field a new candidate in 2016, and the talk already has turned to who will be the party's standard bearer in that race.

But unlike the Obama campaign's focus on the future, the early betting on the party's next presidential candidate seems to be rooted in the past. The people who get mentioned most often -- and most prominently -- are Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vice President Biden and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. On the second tier of this retro list are Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

White and old

Back in April, a Public Policy Poll made Clinton a huge favorite to win the Democratic Party's presidential nomination in 2016. But by then she'll be 70. Biden will turn 74 shortly after the 2016 election. Though the other Democrats who show up in the polls are younger, they are almost all white -- and not Hispanic.

That's a real political blind spot for a party that needs a big turnout of Hispanics -- the nation's largest minority -- to help Obama win a second term in the Oval Office.

Ironically, Hispanics played a major role at the Democrats' meeting in Charlotte. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was the convention chair, and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro was a keynote speaker. In introducing Castro, his identical twin brother, Joaquin -- a Democratic congressional candidate -- called San Antonio "a city on the rise that looks like America tomorrow." In that city, Hispanics and blacks make up a majority of the population, and Hispanics are a major part of its political life.

Texas growing role

Soon Texas, where blacks and Hispanics are now 49% of the population, will become a swing state in presidential elections. And current swing states such as North Carolina, Virginia and Pennsylvania will become more reliably Democratic as a growing Hispanic population in those states combines with black voters to swell the party's core constituencies.

That's what the future looks like for Democrats. It's a future in which young Hispanics like the Castro brothers, who are turning 38 this month, and seasoned politicians such as Villaraigosa, who will be 63 in 2016, will clamor to follow Obama into the White House.

That their names aren't mentioned ahead of the usual suspects from the waning era of white dominance of Democratic Party presidential politics is a failure of vision by pundits -- and signals a serious blind spot by party leaders.

If Democrats want to be the party that looks like tomorrow, they have to realize the future starts now. For millions of Hispanic voters, it probably won't be enough for their loyalty to Obama to be rewarded in 2016 with just a convention title and prime-time speaker's slot.

Julian Castro seems to have signaled as much when he told the National Journal that both parties hadn't done "a good enough job of outreach to the Latino community."

For too long, the Democratic Party treated the presidential ambitions of blacks as an annoyance that had to be tolerated. It should not make the same mistake with Hispanics.

DeWayne Wickham writes on Tuesdays for USA TODAY.

Source: Copyright USA TODAY 2012

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