The unfortunate demise of the presidential candidacy of Sen. John McCain is taking away Latino leverage with Democratic candidates.
Until now, whenever Democrats began to take Latino voters for granted, we could still threaten them with McCain. We could tell them that the Republican Party had a viable option.
After all, on immigration, language rights and other issues important to Latinos, McCain, R-Ariz., is as politically correcto as most of the Democratic candidates.
But with McCain's slide in the polls, and with his campaign's recent inability to raise significant donations, Latino leverage is rapidly vanishing.
Unless McCain can make a dramatic recovery, Democrats will soon be able to give Latinos the same ultimatum they have used for years: "Considering the antagonistic GOP alternative, where else can you go?" they'll ask Latino voters, and they'll win the Hispanic vote as they usually do — by default.
Unfortunately, the Democratic candidates know that running against any of the other Republicans will automatically give them an overwhelming majority of the Latino vote.
That makes McCain "The Great Latino Hope," at least to maintain some pressure on the Democrats to address Latino issues during the campaign. The longer McCain survives the primary season, the less the Democrats can afford to take the Hispanic vote for granted.
There is only one other Republican candidate who could sway a significant number of Latino voters, but that's only if former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani remembers that he was once a moderate, like McCain, on immigration and other Hispanic issues. Lately, Giuliani has been so busy trying to appeal to the conservative wing of his party that he has, apparently purposely, neglected Latinos, their issues and his chances of winning some support in the barrios.
Perhaps Giuliani expects to hide his moderate side until after he wins the GOP nomination, but by that time it will be too late to sway Latino voters away from the Democrats.
Let's face it, Democrats are likely to win the Hispanic vote. In presidential elections, they always do. But will they earn it? And what do they have to do to earn it?
First, they should stand by their principles, as McCain has, and not allow themselves to be intimidated by the mob of immigrant bashers who have been turning U.S. public sentiment against some 12 million people who need and deserve our compassion, instead of mean-spirited rejection.
To earn the Hispanic vote, the Democrats must challenge those who use the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as an excuse to bash illegal immigrants. They must insist that homeland security does not require betraying our principles and tradition as a nation of immigrants. They must remind the country that most illegal immigrants are not criminals, but essential workers who are needed to keep our economy afloat.
They must reject the movement to make English the official language, which is meant to do away with bilingual ballots and even emergency services provided to Latinos in their own language. And they must speak about the other issues that concern Latinos — U.S. relations with Latin America, bilingualism, public education, race relations, the colonial status of Puerto Rico — the list goes on.
Some Democrats are already doing that, but with measured words. They seem more worried about alienating immigrant bashers than securing the immigrant vote. Why? Because they are already beginning to take the 2008 Latino vote for granted.
They figure they can get away with it, as long as McCain keeps slipping in the polls and Giuliani keeps forgetting that he used to be a moderate.
To find out more about Miguel Perez, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.