Ted Cruz has a Latino name. He has a Latino background. And he’s one of the few Latinos to have ever run for the presidential nomination of a major party.
But is he Latino enough?
The Hispanic community in his home state of Texas gave him some but not overwhelming support when he was elected to the Senate in 2012. And mostly Democratic Latinos nationwide are more wary than ever after Cruz’s relentless criticism of immigration reform and the new healthcare law.
His father is a Cuban exile, and the Republican senator from Texas touts his father fleeing Cuba during the revolution every chance he gets, which usually gets a rousing response from an anti-Castro audience.
In his presidential announcement speech March 23, Cruz spoke of his father’s journey, an immigrant’s journey.
“Imagine for a second the hope that was in his heart as he rode that ferry boat across to Key West, and got on a Greyhound bus to head to Austin, Texas, to begin working, washing dishes, making 50 cents an hour, coming to the one land on Earth that has welcomed so many millions,” he said. “When my dad came to America in 1957, he could not have imagined what lay in store for him.”
The Cruz campaign released a video in Spanish and promises a push for Latino voters. “We will have an aggressive Hispanic outreach effort and have staff that are spearheading it,” said Cruz campaign spokeswoman Catherine Frazier. “Ted’s father, Rafael, will also be an active surrogate.”
But Cruz, whose mother is Anglo, has had a limited connection to the Latino community, which is largely Mexican-American and also largely Democratic.
“Running in the primary, Ted Cruz is not making any effort to appeal to Latino voters,” said Matt Barreto, co-founder of the research and polling firm Latino Decisions.
Cruz’s attacks on issues favored by much of the Hispanic community, especially the Obama administration’s easing of immigration restrictions and the Affordable Care Act, have made him unpopular. In a Latino Decisions poll in November of over 4,000 Latinos in 10 states where Hispanics are a significant voting bloc, Cruz had a favorable rating of 31 percent and was viewed unfavorably by 39 percent.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who also is Cuban American and who is announcing his presidential campaign Monday in Miami, also had a 31 percent favorable rating but fared slightly better with a lower negative rating of 36 percent.
Cruz’s birth certificate gives his name as Rafael Edward (“Ted” is a nickname), named after his father. The elder Cruz left Cuba on a student visa after having been arrested and tortured for his disenchantment with rebel leader Fidel Castro, who he had initially supported. His last name is very distinctive: cruz means cross in Spanish.
Ted Cruz was born in 1970 in Calgary, Alberta, where his parents were in the oil business. The family moved from Canada to Houston when he was small.
Cruz speaks passable Spanish; he has said he speaks “Spanglish.”
“He’s slightly more Hispanic than Jeb Bush,” said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University, who added that he was only half-kidding.
A recent report that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is weighing a presidential run, had checked off “Hispanic” on a voter registration card caused a stir. Bush is considered a blue blood, the son and brother of former presidents from Texas whose family roots are from wealthy New England families. But Bush, who laughed off the incident as a mistake, speaks fluent Spanish and is married to a woman from Mexico.
Texas does not ask for race identification on voter registration, so Cruz’s self-identification is not so readily available.
“While Cruz is ethnically Hispanic on his father’s side, that is not part of his political persona,” said Jillson.
The Texas senator won his seat in his first political campaign in 2012 by appealing to the Tea Party in the state with his message of being a strong social and fiscal conservative.
He garnered 35 percent of the Latino vote in the general election, according to a poll by Latino Decisions, outperforming GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who got 29 percent.
But, said Barreto, who is also a professor of political science at UCLA, Cruz’s working against the immigration bill crafted by Rubio and a bipartisan group of senators in 2013 cost him support.
“He himself comes from an immigrant family, and that creates bad feelings in the Latino community,” said Barreto. The bill, which set a path to citizenship, passed the Senate but was not considered by the House of Representatives.
“Ted Cruz is undeniably Latino,” said James Henson, director of the Texas Political Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “Does he seem to be interested in appealing to the Mexican American majority of the Latino population? Not so much. His career in Texas primarily has been focused on reaching out to conservatives.”