Which Democratic Candidate Has Taken Lead on U.S. Latino Issues? The Answer Might Surprise You

Jul 17, 2015
10:22 AM

Earlier this week, the nation’s three most visible Democratic presidential candidates (Bernie Sanders, Martin O’Malley and Hillary Clinton) spoke at the National Council of La Raza’s annual conference. For many, the NCLR event is considered to be the symbolic moment where politics and the political press pay attention to how candidates are addressing the growing U.S. Latino vote. The NCLR speeches marked an appropriate time to examine where each of the three Democrat candidates stand on current issues specific to U.S. Latinos. As a result, our team  spent the rest of the week exploring some of these issues in more depth and compared the candidates’ positions. What follows is an initial take of what we found, based on specific topics our community has been following.

Immigration Reform

While all three candidates favor comprehensive immigration reform, O’Malley was the only candidate this week to release a very detailed and explicit platform on immigration. Highlights of the plan are being hailed as the most progressive anyone seen so far, with a focus on extending administrative relief and putting an end to detention centers.

The same day O’Malley released his plan, Univision anchor Jorge Ramos (whose daughter works for the Clinton campaign) tweeted this:

The day after O’Malley released his plan on July 14, the Clinton campaign published a video called “Sueños” (Dreams). It highlights stories of young DREAMers but does not offer any specific immigration plan. The Clinton campaign’s website contains remarks from May about a roundtable discussion in Nevada, but offers little specifics, unlike O’Malley’s July 14 plan. During the NCLR speech, Sanders said the following about immigration, particularly about the 2013 Senate bill:

This is not to say that I do not have significant criticisms of this long and complicated bill. I believe the pathway to citizenship was unnecessarily linked to border security treaties—measures that many believe were put in place so that the path to citizenship would be delayed or even denied for the millions of undocumented people here; and I want to change those provisions. I also believe that the penalties and fines of the bill would be hard for the poor, essentially preventing them from accessing the path to legal residency and eventual citizenship. To be meaningful, a pathway to citizenship needs to be achievable for the millions of workers at the low end of the economic class. These and other barriers of the bill, including the use of more than a decade that it would take to achieve citizenship, make it a flawed piece of legislation and needs to be improved.

A review of Sanders’ ISSUES website does not contain specifics about an immigration platform. Right now, the only Democratic candidate with a specific platform is O’Malley. Furthermore, O’Malley was the first presidential candidate to accept the invitation to speak at NCLR. On June 18, NCLR included O’Malley’s name in an official press release. NCLR announced Clinton’s appearance on July 2. Sanders’ appearance was announced on July 9.

Puerto Rico Debt Crisis

On June 30, O’Malley’s Twitter profile shared two tweets about Puerto Rico. The first one was in English:

The second one was in Spanish:

Three hours later, Clinton herself (H) tweeted the following about Puerto Rico, offering very little information about her position:

This contrast between positions was pointed out in the Washington Post a few days later on July 6:

In the Democratic contest, Hillary Clinton has also avoided taking a clear position. Martin O’Malley aggressively embraced the bankruptcy option last Tuesday in a play for Hispanics, and the former Maryland governor earned tons of free media in the Spanish-language press for his stance. Clinton tweeted last week that, “Puerto Rico’s debt crisis is not theirs alone. For PR’s economy to grow & their people to thrive, they need real tools & real support.” Asked if that means she supports the right to Chapter 9, a spokesman for the former secretary of State declined to comment.

The next day, July 7, the Clinton campaign issued a more specific statement about Puerto Rico (from POLITICO):

“The challenge is multi-faceted, and will ultimately require Puerto Rico to find a way to pay back its debtors in an orderly fashion. As a first step, Congress should provide Puerto Rico the same authority that states already have to enable severely distressed government entities, including municipalities and public corporations, to restructure their debts under Chapter 9 of the Bankruptcy Code,” Clinton said in a statement.

“We’re not talking about a bailout, we’re talking about a fair shot at success.”

The same day the Clinton campaign issued a statement about Puerto Rico, the Sanders campaign issued a statement:

“I strongly believe Puerto Rico should be afforded the same bankruptcy protections that exist for municipalities across the United States. We need to do everything we can to allow Puerto Rico to restructure its debt in a rational way that does not harm its people, ordinary investors or pension funds in the United States. Chapter 9 protections would be a good first step.

But we also should recognize that the reason Puerto Rico has such unsustainable debt has everything to do with the policies of austerity and the greed of large financial institutions. Puerto Rico has been in a severe recession for almost a decade. Today, more than 45 percent of the people in Puerto Rico are living in poverty, the childhood poverty rate is greater than 56 percent and real unemployment is much too high. Our goal must be not only to give Puerto Rico the flexibility it needs to restructure its debt, but to make sure that it can rebuild its economy, create good-paying jobs and expand its tax base.

The Sanders campaign also tweeted this on July 7, days after O’Malley led on the issue:

Dominican Republic and Haiti

So far, O’Malley is the only Democratic candidate speaking about the current situation in the Dominican Republic. The Maryland governor penned an op-ed on June 17 for the Huffington Post. In that op-ed, he wrote:

These mass deportations —if enacted— would also be an abhorrent affront to human rights by one of our closest neighbors. Rather than being silent, the United States should work with our allies in the region and the United Nations, while also using the full force of our diplomatic might to stop this injustice. Countries that disrespect international norms will be judged in the eyes of the world, and should be held accountable. This is just one critical step we need to take to heal relationships in our own hemisphere—not only by renewing our focus on the region, but also by examining the policies we’ve embraced at home and abroad, some of which have diminished our standing with our closest neighbors…Speaking out against the impending injustice against Haitians in the Dominican Republic is the first thing we can do to begin to reclaim our credibility and moral standing. I intend to express my concerns directly to Dominican and Haitian leaders in the coming days. We should exercise all our leverage as a key ally and leader in the region to address this crisis and the underlying causes of forced migration.

Earlier in July, O’Malley went on Radio Soleil to discuss the issue:

For far too long, I think our country has been silent when it comes to the most important and deeply-held principles we share as Americans in this hemisphere, and that is our belief in the dignity of every human being, and our belief that there is a common good that we share in this American hemisphere. And that common good is strengthened by the respect for individual human beings and human dignity. So that’s what this is about…I think we need to speak up … These forced deportations … create a refugee crisis in a world that has far too many refugees on them … Let’s hope that the pressure and the international attention here will get the government of the Dominican Republic to kind of wake-up and realize that there are certain norms of behavior that need to be respected.

That Radio Soleil appearance occurred after O’Malley went on Radio Mega in June to discuss the issue:

I don’t know why our government hasn’t acted. Our government has had their own problems with immigration reform and deporting too many people. I hope our country will come around on this…We have tended to pivot east and west, and our strength as a nation depends on our relationships in the Americas and Caribbean. This can be a great strength, especially in this world of limited resources and mass migrations.

So far, at least from what we can tell, neither Clinton nor Sanders have been this public about the situation in the DR.

O’Malley’s history of taking strong progressive positions is not new. Last year, he went on Latino Rebels Radio to speak about the Central American migrant crisis:

Around that same time, Clinton went on CNN and said the following:

Last month, Sanders also brought up Clinton’s comments, as reported by NBC News:

Sanders took a swipe at Clinton and her record on immigration views, saying that when tens of thousands of children arrived on the border from Central America and Mexico last spring and summer, there were “so many voices” calling for sending the children back home like a package, “marked return to sender.”

Nonetheless, a July 16 Univision poll reported that Clinton still has a commanding lead with U.S. Latinos voters:

Clinton also enjoys a significant lead in the contention for the nomination of her own Democratic Party. Of the Hispanic voters interviewed, 73% state that they would vote for her, while none of her Democratic rivals approaches showing double digits. Of those interviewed, 68% have a favorable opinion of the former Secretary of State, 26% have an unfavorable opinion, and only 6% do not know her or have not formed an opinion about her, according to Univision’s exclusive survey. In contrast, 68% do not know or have not formed an opinion about Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s nearest opponent in the battle for the Democratic nomination, and 74 per cent do not know or have no opinion about former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, another important Democratic rival for Clinton. Joe Biden, who has not yet declared his candidacy, receives a favorable opinion from 50% of Hispanic voters. But even he has problems among this voter constituency. Despite having been Vice President of the United States for well over six years, 24% of Hispanic voters do not know who he is or have not yet formed an opinion about him.