Bachmann Needs Some Latino Education

Congresswoman Bachmann at Versailles in Miami, Fl. -- Photo: Reuters

There are many things that stood out at last night’s Republican Debate at the Regan Library in Simi Valley California. As usual, I took to Twitter and voiced some of my thoughts on the debate hosted by MSNBC/ POLITICO, including my apprehension on Representative Michele Bachmann’s statement on the Hispanic community.

Moderator and Telemundo anchor Jose Diaz-Balart pressed the Minnesota Congresswoman on her immigration stance. She gave an odd answer equating conversations she had at Versailles Restaurant in Miami, Fl, a Cuban political hotspot, as representative of the sentiment felt by the entire Hispanic community.

I tweeted,“”Rep Bachmann, a conversation in Miami is very different than a conservation in El Paso. Latinos aren’t all the same #ReaganDebate.” Recently, I wrote a piece about all the GOP Presidential candidates and their campaign’s efforts to connect with Hispanic voters. I questioned Congresswoman Bachmann’s experience with the Latino community.

Here is exactly what Congresswoman Bachmann said last night. Transcript from NY TIMES

MODERATOR DIAZ-BALART: Congresswoman, you said the fence — that you believe the fence is fundamental as an integral part of controlling the border. Let’s say that in 2012 or 2013, there’s a fence, the border is secure, gasoline is $2 a gallon. What do you do then with 11 million people, as the Speaker says, many of whom have U.S.-born children here? What do you do?

BACHMANN: Well, again, understand the context and the problem that we’re dealing with.  In Mexico right now, we’re dealing with narco terrorists. This is a very serious problem. To not build a border or a fence on every part of that border would be, in effect, to yield United States sovereignty not only to our nation anymore, but to yield it to another nation. That we cannot do.

One thing that the American people have said to me over and over again — and I was just last week down in Miami. I was visiting the Bay of Pigs Museum with Cuban-Americans. I was down at the Versailles Cafe. I met with a number of people, and it’s very interesting. The Hispanic-American community wants us to stop giving taxpayer- subsidized benefits to illegal aliens and benefits, and they want us to stop giving taxpayer-subsidized benefits to their children as well.

Statements like these, generalizing Latinos, especially on immigration, will usually get a GOP candidate in trouble. It makes me wonder, does Bachmann even have a comprehensive Latino inclusion effort??

To her credit, Representative Bachmann is one of the few candidates who mentioned Latinos outside of immigration, discussing how the Obama economy has hurt Latino youth. The Congresswoman is new to national campaigning and to Latino voters. In her home state of Minnesota, Hispanics only make up 1.9% of the state’s electorate.

I applaud her for making a strong effort to better understand the diverse, non-monolithic Hispanic community. Her trip to Florida is probably one of her first major campaign stops to a battle ground state with a large Latino consistency. If she plans to be successful in her Presidential bid, she will need to surround herself with knowledgeable staff to help her understand the political and cultural differences of Hispanics across the nation. Latinos make up major constituencies in many “Super Swing States” including Colorado, Florida and Nevada.

Even in Florida, a GOP primary state that has made and broken many Republican nominee dreams, the Latino community is diverse and complicated. There are major difference among Hispanics in Little Havana, Kendall, Orlando and Tampa.

Though her statement was is not a flub, it was a clear indicator that she still has much to learn about how Hispanics feel about important policy issues. Cuban-American voters in Miami are very different from Mexican-American voters in Southern California, where the debate took place. She, and all candidates, must understand the difference if they hope to win in 2012.

MORE: Keys to Winning Hispanic Voters”

On a side note, while I was very pleased to see Jose Diaz-Balart, why didn’t he get an appropriate platform as a moderator? Why didn’t he have a chair or at least something more formal that randomly standing on the side? Why did the producers/organizers fail to show Diaz-Balart’s face for several minutes after he began speaking? Why did he only ask immigration questions? Given he probably is more knowledge on the issue than either Williams or Harris, if the point was to have a Latino twist, Latinos are not one-issue voters. Big fail by MSNBC and Politico.

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