After former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R-Massachusetts) lost what some thought was a winnable race against President Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election, Republican officials set out to strengthen ties with women, minority and young voters. As a result, the Republicans now have one woman, three minorities and many young (as far as politics goes) candidates running for president in the 2016 election.
Although some believe that a large Republican field will drag out the primary and harm the eventual nominee, I believe that this large and diverse field will help Republicans attract voters that traditionally don’t vote for Republican candidates. This will create a more promising Republican crop in the 2016 election.
Diverse and compelling candidates can stimulate voters in the primary and general elections. For example, the excitement surrounding the 2008 Democratic primary far exceeded that of the Republican Party. Former senators Hillary Clinton and Obama turned out voters that had never voted before. This helped to expand the Democratic party in the lead-up to the capture of the White House. Even in the Republican stronghold of Texas, because of the increased turnout of women, minority and young voters, the Democrats won 74 of the 150 seats in the state House of Representatives.
The Democrats’ victories in 2008 and 2012 reinforced the perception that the Republican Party was the party of old white men. Statistically, this was supported by the fact that, in 2012, Romney received only 44 percent of the female vote, six percent of the African-American vote and 27 percent of the Hispanic vote. Young voters repudiated him by similar margins. Although Romney won 59 percent of the white vote, white voters are becoming an ever-smaller percentage of the voting population: nearly 90 percent of voters were white in 1980, but that fell to 73 percent in 2012 and is expected to be lower next time around.
Much has changed since 2012. The Republican primary will host several major candidates who better represent the diversity of modern American voters. The field of candidates includes a woman (former HP CEO Carly Fiorina); an African-American (Neurosurgeon Ben Carson); and two Hispanics candidates, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
“With the Republicans fielding a more diverse field than the Democrats, it is going to shock some folks who have the perception that the Republican Party is just full of old white men,” said political operative Luke Marchant of the Mammoth Marketing Group. “The diversity isn’t just in our presidential candidates. Republicans have a diverse bullpen in both federal, state and local offices, with folks like [state Rep.] James White, [Railroad Commissioner] Christi Craddick, and [San Antonio Mayor] Ivy Taylor. So I suspect the cliché nomenclature of the Republican party will be put to bed.”
Given this change in the diversity of presidential candidates, Democrats may have peaked in 2008 and 2012 with regard to what they can offer to women, minority and young voters.
After eight years of promised change under Obama, voters may be disillusioned with a term that, at times, seemed like just more of the same. This large Republican field is positioned to bring in these disillusioned voters. With such a competitive field of candidates, the excitement generated in the primary will carry over into the general election, as was the case in the 2008 Democratic primaries.
In particular, Republicans are poised to do much better with Hispanic voters if the eventual ticket includes former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-Florida), Rubio or Cruz. Rubio and Cruz will likely increase Hispanic support because they are Hispanic. Bush, though not Hispanic, is fluent in Spanish and is married to a Mexican-born woman. In the recent 2014 Texas gubernatorial race, Abbott pitched to Hispanic voters that electing him would also put the first Hispanic first lady in the state Capitol. This pitch worked — Abbott captured 44 percent of the Hispanic votes, compared to the 38 percent captured by Rick Perry four years prior. Should Bush implement a similar strategy of appealing to Hispanic voters, Bush may have similar success.
To win in 2016, Republicans will likely have to perform about as well as former President George W. Bush did in 2004, winning 48 percent of the female vote, 11 percent of African-American votes, 44 percent of Hispanic votes, 43 percent of Asian-American votes and 45 percent of young people. Jeb Bush and Rubio can accomplish this feat because in their most recent election, they both won a majority of Hispanic votes in addition to performing well among other traditionally Democratic groups. Additionally, both Bush and Rubio are among the few Republicans running that support immigration reform, which is important or extremely important to 66 percent of registered Latino voters, according to a 2014 poll by the Pew Research Center.
If the Republicans capture the White House in 2016, it will be due, in no small part, to the variety of candidates voters were able to choose from.
Hung is a second year law student from Brownsville.