GOP Candidates Embarrass Martinez
President Bush chose Florida Senator Mel Martinez to chair the RNC for several reasons. First and foremost, Martinez is a Bush man, through and through. He was a former Cabinet member under Bush and is what White House aides would call a "loyal Bushie."
He was also picked because of his race. In 2000 and 2004, Republicans (or at least Bush) improved performance among Latinos (30% in 2000 and 40% in 2004), but 2006 represented a significant setback (only 30% went for GOP candidates) and seemed to foreshadow a long term schism that could relegate the Republican Party, in the long term, to near permanent minority status.
Martinez, despite a reputation for mediocrity in the Senate, was chosen as the man to change that dynamic.
After the other night's Spanish language debate, his job just got harder.
All the top Democratic candidates gathered for a Spanish language debate (questions and answeres were given translated into Spanish because only Senator Chris Dodd and Governor Bill Richardson speak fluent Spanish) the other night that was broadcast on Univision, the largest Spanish language channel in the U.S. and the fifth largest network overall.
Back in June, when the debates were first being planned, Martinez said, "I think that to have candidates address the largest minority group in America would be a terrific thing and to do it on a network that the Hispanic community of America watches would be the right forum."
Flash forward to the day before every major Democratic participates in the Univision debate and what line is Martinez forced to spout?
"I was hoping that there would be good participation in the Univision forum. It's a very busy primary calendar, and their schedules are such that this forum didn't fit in. Now is this a rejection of Hispanic voters? Of course not. And I hope it's not seen that way."
All the Democrats could make it, but only McCain agreed to attend on the Republican side.
The GOP candidates also snubbed two high profile Latino events this summer - the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, the biggest gathering of the Latino political class, in late June, and the second by the National Council of La Raza, the largest Latino civil rights group, in late July.
The Democratic candidates showed up for both events.
As Simon Rosenberg of the New Democratic Network said: "To be frank, every day Martinez's job is to put lipstick on a pig. It's not a pretty job, but he took it, and now he's got to live with it."
The GOP field has thrown Martinez under the bus and rendered him an empty suit over a year before the election. If he is unable to improve the party's standing among Latino voters, there is no reason for him to continue as chair - he is not an exceptional fundraiser (yes, the RNC is outperforming the DNC in fundraising, but that's just business as usual) and his political acumen is well to be substandard. I always thought that Michael Steele would have been a better choice and I believe I have been somewhat vindicated by recent events.
Click here to view excerpts from the Democratic debate.