By Matt Rooney | Cross-posted at SaveJersey.com
Marco Rubio says he doesn't want it, Save Jerseyans. His actions tell another story; for example, he was barnstorming with Mitt Romney yesterday in battleground Southeastern Pennsylvania ahead of tomorrow's Keystone State primary.
And what would a historic Romney-Rubio ticket mean for Election 2012? Most pundits wouldn't say "nothing" exactly, but perhaps something only marginally more generous. Conventional wisdom assumes that vice presidential picks don't affect the final vote very much one way or the other.
Back when the political parties held true "brokered" conventions, second slot selections usually reflected regional compromises, i.e. Kennedy and Johnson. Contemporary presidential candidates have erred on the side of "safe" choices, guys like Al Gore and Dick Cheney, who projected experience and stability for the ticket's seemingly less experienced headliners.
It's hard to put "Joe Biden" and "safe" in the same sentence without smirking but sure, I guess he fits the profile as well. Sarah Palin was a notable (and ultimately catastrophic) departure from the formula.
I think Marco Rubio could represent a rare positive departure, and New Jersey's GOP U.S. Senate candidate could be the biggest beneficiary...
Why? Because Marco Rubio could reap record Hispanic support for the GOP in 2012.
Specifically? Take a look at New Jersey's demographics. I fully recognize that we haven't supported a Republican for president since 1988. But according to the 2010 Census, 17.7% of individual residents and 8.7% of businesses are "Hispanic." Both statistics place the Garden State slightly above the national average. A large number of these Hispanic New Jerseyans are of Cuban descent just like Senator Rubio.
In fact, the New York City metro area is home to the second largest concentration of Cuban Americans in the country (over 140,000). Many of these folks live in Northeastern New Jersey and Hudson County in particular. Depending on which survey you adopt, there are approximately 80,000 Cuban Americans in the Garden State. That's almost 1 out of every 100 state residents! Union City is locally known as "Havana on the Hudson." Nearby West New York is the only "top 25" city in America, ranked by percentage of native Cuban residents, that lies outside of Florida; almost 20% of West New Yorkers claim Cuban ancestry.
Whether Rubio, a Cuban, can help New Jersey's Joe Kyrillos (R-Monmouth) do better than past NJGOP candidates with Hispanic outreach and ultimately beat Bob Menendez in November is anyone's guess. However, there is a real mathematical basis for optimism. Florida's 2010 statewide results may be instructive.
In 2010, Rubio captured 62% of Florida's Hispanic vote (78% of Cubans and 40% of Non-Cuban Hispanics) in an election where Hispanics compromised about 16% of the total electorate. By contrast, GOP gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott won 51% of the total Hispanic vote, representing an 11-point drop off. That means Joe Kyrillos should expect some Hispanic drop off, too, particularly since he's running against an Hispanic incumbent and a president who earned 67% of the national Hispanic vote in 2008. The key is that he probably doesn't need 62% to win. What constitutes "enough" is hard to say. Too many variables!
Looking back, New Jersey Republican success with the Hispanic vote has been a mixed bag overall. In 2006, when Tom Kean, Jr. faced off with Menendez, it ended up being the closest U.S. Senate race in a terrible GOP cycle; Kean fell short by just 8-points overall. The state's active electorate was 10.2% Hispanic that year, and Menendez got 71% of the Hispanic vote to Kean's 28%. When Bush lost New Jersey by roughly 6.5% in 2004, John Kerry captured 56% of New Jersey's voting Hispanics.
The most recent results set our baseline. Kyrillos's most important ally, Governor Chris Christie, had a much rougher time than Bush in 2009. He won only 32% of the Hispanic vote over Jon Corzine who lost by around 3.5-points, a showing somewhat consistent with Kean's performance.
Bottom line? If Rubio could hypothetically help Romney garner close to half of the Hispanic voter in New Jersey (so a little better than Bush in '04), and Kyrillos could, in turn, break 40% of the Hispanic vote while performing optimally among non-Hispanic voters, then a Kyrillos victory would be much more likely for having Rubio on the field.
Could. It won't be easy. Ask Felix Roque (the Cuban American Mayor of West New York who, under pressure, flipped from Kyrillos back to Menendez).
Matt Rooney is a New Jersey attorney, conservative commentator, and the founder & Blogger-in-Chief of New Jersey’s #1 conservative blog, Save Jersey. You can learn more about Matt and the Christie Revolution by visiting today!