Bill Clinton was the first black president. Thursday afternoon, taking in the Cuba thaw after weeks buoyed by President Barack Obama’s immigration reform executive actions, Labor Secretary Tom Perez put down a new marker for his own boss.
“When I reflect on the breadth and depth of what he has done for Latinos, it really makes him in my mind, and in the minds of so many others, the first Latino president,” said Perez, the son of Dominican immigrants and one of the administration’s highest-ranking Latinos.
Perez isn’t alone in that assessment. But many Latinos aren’t ready to go that far. But they’re starting to move. Obama’s approval rating shot up among Latinos since the executive action announcement, and the change in Cuba policy is a reminder of just how much politics have shifted: most older Cubans rage against lifting the embargo, while most younger Cubans track with the American public in supporting what Obama did—not to mention that Cubans now make up only 3.5 percent of the country’s Hispanic population. But polls show non-Cuban Hispanics support normalizing relations with Cuba by far greater margins.
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Obama’s already increased his Latino support from 67 percent in 2008 to 71 percent in 2012. If things keep up this way, pollsters see the chance that one of his electoral legacies could be helping deliver upwards of 80 percent of a quickly growing population to the next Democratic nominee.
Gary Segura, the principal and co-founder of the polling firm Latino Decisions, said Republicans risk hastening that along if they spend the next two years railing against the immigration executive actions—which, he said, will only help Obama’s standing among Latinos by giving him a chance to repeatedly remind them that he stood with them.
“He’ll spend most of the last two years of his presidency defending Latinos and his executive action. He’ll look good, his party will look good, the opposition party will look bad,” Segura said.
Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart (R-Fla.) is a leader of immigration reform efforts among House Republicans. But as a Cuban himself, and one who represents many other Cubans in South Florida, he said Obama’s outreach to Castro demonstrates “a limitless willingness to appease enemies of freedom,” and a “grotesque concession.”
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