PHOENIX — Tommy Espinoza feels all alone.
It’s not because he’s Catholic — most Hispanics are. It’s not because he’s a Democrat — Hispanics tend to be that, too.
It’s because he plans to vote for John McCain.
Espinoza was greeted with some jeers when he took the stage at the Republican National Convention and introduced himself as a “Catholic, Hispanic and a Democrat.”
But he made convention-goers cheer when he announced that he was “proud to call John McCain my friend.”
“I’ve worked with Senator McCain for the last 25 years,” he said at the convention in early September. “And what I’ve seen in the senator is a person with a lot of passion when it comes to helping Latinos who need a strong voice in the public arena.”
Espinoza, president and CEO of Raza Development Fund, a community development organization headquartered in Phoenix that provides loans and technical assistance to entities that serve low-income Latino families, said he supports McCain because he has seen firsthand in Arizona the senator’s support of Hispanic issues, such as bilingual education and immigration, and because of the senator’s pro-life voting record.
Espinoza seems to be in the minority, however. According to a nationwide survey of 2,015 Latinos conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center from June 9 to July 13, registered Hispanic voters support Obama for president over McCain 66% to 23%. The poll also shows that Obama has a 50-percentage-point lead over McCain among Catholic Latinos.
Another survey, released Oct. 16 by the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, the Jesse Miranda Center, Faith in Public Life, America’s Voice Education Fund and Gastón Espinosa, associate professor of religious studies at Claremont McKenna College and Claremont Graduate University, found that Hispanic Protestant support for the Republican ticket has been cut nearly in half since the 2004 election. The survey, which did not include Catholic voters, found that abortion is extremely or very important as a voting issue to nearly 75% of those surveyed, while immigration is extremely or very important to 71%.
George Marlin, author of The American Catholic Voter, quoted various polling data in the online publication The Catholic Thing to make the following points about Hispanics. Most of them:
• Oppose abortion
• Attend church
• Believe that couples should marry if they intend to live together
• Say that unwed parents should be legally wed
• Hold that government should promote “personal responsibility” instead of “bureaucratic paternalism.”
• View welfare as a temporary safety net, not a permanent way of life.
“These data explain why the most significant Bush gains in the 2004 presidential election were in the Hispanic communities,” Marlin writes.
He also made the case that the Hispanic vote is trending more Republican.
• In 1996, 21% of Hispanics voted for Bob Dole over Bill Clinton
n In 2000 34% voted for George W. Bush over Al Gore
• In 2004, 41% voted to re-elect the President against John Kerry.
Marlin quotes Dick Morris’ conclusion: “More Hispanics voted Republican for a variety of factors, including Bush’s efforts to cultivate them, his proposals to legalize guest workers, and his conservative position on social values, which was a special importance to religious Catholic Hispanics.”
Leslie Sanchez, president of the Impacto Group, a Republican communications research firm, agreed: “There is no doubt Hispanics share many of the values of the Republican Party.”
In the 2008 election, Latino registered voters rank education, the cost of living, jobs and health care as the most important issues, with crime, the war in Iraq and even immigration lagging behind. On each of these seven issues, Obama is strongly favored over McCain — by ratios ranging from about 3-to-1 on education, jobs, health care, the cost of living and immigration, to about 2-to-1 on Iraq and crime. Life issues, though, did not feature prominently on the list, despite the fact that most Hispanics are Catholic and would consider themselves pro-life.
But Obama’s “young face” and message of change is effectively winning over many Hispanic Catholics.
“Barack emphasizes change and is making a pretty convincing argument that he can bring about that change,” said Jazmin Jiménez, an ethics and social justice teacher at Verbum Dei High School in Los Angeles, part of the Jesuit-run Cristo Rey Network of schools. “From watching him speak and from reading articles that he’s written, he does a really good job of talking about how faith and politics don’t have to oppose one another; one can inform the other in an appropriate way. He himself isn’t Catholic, but a lot of what he represents is in line with Catholic social teaching, though he wouldn’t call it that,” she said.
Jiménez said that for her, life issues are important in this campaign, but so are the economy, health care and the war in Iraq.
“I think that Catholics who are voting on single issues need to look at the recent documents that have come out from the conference of Catholic bishops,” she said. “The bishops are challenging American Catholics to vote for a common good, not just on single issues. If we vote on a single life issue, then we’re ignoring many other life issues that are just as important, at least for me.”
But two bishops in Texas, which has a significant Mexican-American population, reaffirmed that “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” issued by the U.S. bishops’ conference last year, states that to vote for a candidate who supports an intrinsic evil, such as abortion, when there is a morally acceptable alternative, would be to cooperate in the evil.
“The only moral possibilities for a Catholic to be able to vote in good conscience for a candidate who supports this intrinsic evil are the following,” said an Oct. 8 letter from Dallas Bishop Kevin Farrell and Fort Worth Bishop Kevin Vann: “If both candidates running for office support abortion or ‘abortion rights,’ a Catholic would be forced to look at the other important issues and through their vote try to limit the evil done, or, if another intrinsic evil outweighs the evil of abortion.”
The bishops said that right now there are no “‘truly grave moral’ or ‘proportionate’ reasons, singularly or combined, that could outweigh the millions of innocent human lives that are directly killed by legal abortion each year.”
Miami-based Ariel Fernández, a member of the Catholics for McCain National Steering Committee, thinks that pro-life issues are always important to Hispanic voters.
“Hispanic Catholics especially have always made the pro-life issue a priority when choosing our next leaders,” he said. “Let’s face it; if we boil it down, if there is no life, nothing else will make sense. The first thing that has to exist is life; if we don’t guarantee someone that constitutional right, then we have a problem.”
Fernandez admits, though, that the economy is on everyone’s minds in this election.
For one undecided Hispanic Catholic voter, the choice is not so easy.
“I am a swing voter … but I like to be holistic in my approach to life issues,” said Erika Vega, who was very involved in the pro-life club at Loyola Marymount University, where she studied. “Life issues, including abortion, capital punishment and war, and all the other issues are definitely important to me, but I don’t really know what it’s going to take to convince me either way.
“McCain, for example,” she said, “is not a very good pro-lifer when compared to other Republicans. Crisis-pregnancy centers and giving women the emotional support and resources needed to make the decisions are more important to me than the legal bickering, and Democrats tend to provide more funding for these types of social programs. To me, these are still things that need to be addressed, whether Roe v. Wade is ever overturned or not.”
In the end, Vega said, “I am still undecided. I still need to figure it out.”
Astrid Bennett Gutierrez, on the other hand, believes no issue should come above the life issue, and her experiences on the front lines of the abortion battle confirm her belief.
“There are other issues that are important, but comparing something like the school system or economy … If you don’t have the right to life, which is the first primordial right, how does anything else matter?” said Bennett Gutierrez, coordinator of Hispanics for Life and Human Rights and director of the Los Angeles Crisis Pregnancy Center. “Anyone who understands the magnitude and has seen what abortion is cannot see the election in the same way.
“I used to vote according to what the media told me,” she said. “It changed for me when I realized what each party truly represented.”
The purpose of Hispanics for Life and Human Rights is to educate the Hispanic community on life issues and particularly on what they feel is “the hate crime they have been subjected to by the abortion industry and promoters of abortion,” Bennett Gutierrez explained.
“There are nine abortion facilities within a one-mile radius of our [crisis-pregnancy] clinic here in L.A. that are aggressively handing out flyers to women,” Bennett Gutierrez said. “It’s really aggressive campaigning. … Hispanics are traditional, conservative; they care about family, and they care about life. For us to be able to move Hispanics, they need to understand the magnitude [of abortion], and we must teach people the truth. The Hispanic Catholic community is a sleeping giant, and it is time for that giant to awaken.”
writes from Miami.