Rick Perry is no George W. Bush. They may share the cowboy boots, but their similarities are only leather deep. The most striking difference between Perry and Bush is their relationship with Latinos. Bush had a lot of Latino love and that love pushed him over the edge in the Southwestern swing states in 2000 and 2004. Perry is no Latino lover and this would seal his electoral defeat if he were to make it to the 2012 general election.
The Bush-Rove Texas gubernatorial strategy in the 90’s was flat out Hispanic-friendly. The Rovian Texas strategy was not to dismiss the largely Democratic Latino population. Quite the contrary, Rove saw them as closet swing voters ripe for the picking. The idea of compassionate conservatism was one that resonated with Latinos and that Bush harnessed in the late 90’s and into his presidential campaigns.
George W. Bush was not only Latino friendly, but Latino immigrant friendly. As a presidential candidate, Bush was open and interested in a large-scale immigration overhaul. Upon entering office the president drew on his warm relations with Mexico and began feeling out national and international players for immigration reform. An immigration reform, however was undercut in the wake of 9/11. The turn to homeland security obscured any discussion of immigration reform due to the larger political context.
Texas Governor Rick Perry in his 10 years as governor has never actively sought out the Latino electorate. He checks the box of having Latino targeted outreach in his campaigns but this electorate was not a prime target. Perry received 38% of the Latino vote in his 2010 re-election. Bush’s gubernatorial re-election saw Latino support at 49% (Voter News Service, 1998).
The key difference between Bush and Perry when it comes to the Latino population is in their immigration and Latino policy related stances. For the 2011 Texas legislative session Governor Perry has put immigration in his crosshairs. Perry has actively sought out policy positions that are opposed by the majority of Latinos. Early this year he introduced two such emergency measures: 1.) abolishing sanctuary cities, and 2.) tightening voter identification laws. Items declared legislative emergencies by the governor can bypass normal procedures and be brought to a vote more quickly in the first 30 days of the session. The sanctuary cities measure was killed in the state senate, but the voter ID law passed.
Coming back into a summer special legislative session Governor Perry doubled down on his quest to abolish sanctuary cities. The abolishment of sanctuary cities was the only emergency measure that did not pass in the regular session and this is an issue the Governor did not overlook. To highlight his point the Governor Perry also added measures to tighten the granting of driver’s licenses and consider the Secure Communities Program.
Rick Perry’s policy moves this year are decidedly not Latino friendly. So far, the Governor’s most effective Latino outreach is that he did not push for an Arizona SB 1070 law. His stances indicate he is not interested in the Latino electorate. He is charting his course along the Tea Party and Evangelical routes. This strategy choice can work in Texas (for now) and it would likely work in the Republican presidential primary if Perry were to throw his hat in the ring.
If Perry seeks a run on the national stage his lack of connection with the Latino electorate will hurt him. He cannot carry over a deep base of Latino support into a national level campaign because he has not cultivated a homegrown one to begin with. More importantly, swing states such as New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, and Florida all have crucial blocs of Latino voters that could tip the balance in an election. Rick Perry is no George W. Bush and nowhere is this more apparent than in their relationship with the Latino electorate.