VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Manuel Loaiza, 24, and his mother were some of the last people leaving a Marco Rubio rally Sunday night in Virginia Beach. Loaiza and his mom, who he said doesn’t speak English very well, are two of thousands of conservative Latinos across the nation who stand behind Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio.
Rubio, a senator from Florida, has one distinctive two quality that makes him different from his two biggest rivals — he is Cuban-American and he doesn’t shy away from admitting it.
In a Washington Post poll, 34 percent of Republican Hispanics primary voters said that if their state’s primary were tomorrow, they would vote for Rubio. His rivals — real estate magnate Donald Trump and Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who is also of Cuban descent — would receive 22 percent and 21 percent of the Republican Latino vote respectively.
And though Trump’s campaign celebrated an apparent surge of Latino approval during the Nevada caucuses last February 23, Republican Hispanic voters in Virginia don’t seem to think he’s the right candidate.
“I think that (Rubio) should win because he’s the only one that could beat the Democrats,” Loaiza said. “Nobody else can … Trump would lose at the general election, Ted would lose. He’s the most electable candidate.”
According to the Pew Research Center, between 2012 and 2016, 1.2 million Hispanic immigrants who are in the U.S. legally have become U.S. citizens. Following Trump’s campaign constant attack on Latino immigrants, national organizations have launched campaigns such as the “Our Vote, Our Future” campaign, to increase this Hispanic participation in the primaries and the general election by conducting naturalization workshops and encouraging Hispanic citizens to vote.
This rise in Hispanic voter interest, dubbed the “Trump Effect” by the media, can become a major element during this year’s nominee and general election.
“The road to the White House goes through the streets of the Latino barrios. Any candidate who aspires to represent us needs to engage in meaningful conversation with the Latino community on the topics that affect us: immigration, healthcare, education, workers’ rights, and climate change,” said Ben Monterroso, Executive Director of Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, during an event launching the “Our Vote, Our Future” campaign.
In Virginia, where there are 277,000 eligible Hispanic voters out of 5,993,000 total, Loaiza believes Rubio has a better chance with the Latino vote.
“This would work more for Marco because Latinos can relate to him more,” he said. “His parents came from Cuba, escaping socialist governments.”
During the rally, Rubio spoke about his family’s humble beginnings, saying his father’s first words in English were “I need a job.”
Martin Solis, a waiter at the Camino Real Mexican restaurant in Virginia Beach, came to the United States from Mexico in 1988. He said he’s ready to participate during Tuesday’s primary election, saying voting is his duty as a citizen.
“After 2000, there are many Latinos who were residents and (became) U.S. citizens,” he said. “So now they know how it important it is for the community to vote and they can change the style of life.”
Experts argue the “Trump Effect” can be most beneficial to Democratic nominees, whose immigration policies are more in line with Hispanic immigration rhetoric. In 2014, the Pew Research Center reported that 56 percent of Hispanics identified as Democrats — against, for example, 80 percent of African-Americans identifying as Democrats. The conservative Hispanic vote, thus, is up for grabs.
And though Solis said he will probably vote for Hillary Clinton, he believes the “Trump Effect” benefits Republicans better. His second candidate of choice, he said, is Ted Cruz, because he believes he’s “cleaner” on his promises than Rubio.
“We’ve had a black president, so in the future, it’s going to be in the Latino’s power,” he said. “One of the Latinos is going to be maybe the next president, if it’s not going to be in this election then maybe on the next one.”
Gerson Moreno-Riaño, Regent University’s executive vice president for academic affairs and dean of the school’s college of arts and sciences, said Latinos are currently suffering from a confidence crisis on both parties, which makes it difficult for them to pick a side.
He believes the “Trump Effect” will benefit the Democrats because the Republican party has not done a great job establishing itself as a viable alternative to the Democratic Party for Hispanic and Latino voters. However, when it comes to the conservative Latino vote, Moreno-Riaño thinks voters will lean towards Cruz or Rubio.
“(Trump’s) done a lot of damage to himself with the Latino population and his conservative credentials are not clear at this time while with Cruz and Rubio it is a little bit more clear,” he said.