The Rev. Luis Cortes on the Hispanic Vote As the population of Hispanic-Americans continues to grow, the presidential candidates have been vying for their votes. During his own campaign, President Bush aligned himself with the Rev. Luis Cortes, one of the country's most influential evangelicals.
NPR logo

The Rev. Luis Cortes on the Hispanic Vote

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/87837159/87837117" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
The Rev. Luis Cortes on the Hispanic Vote

The Rev. Luis Cortes on the Hispanic Vote

The Rev. Luis Cortes on the Hispanic Vote

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/87837159/87837117" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Presidential primary politics heat up Tuesday with contests in Rhode Island, Vermont, Ohio and Texas.

In the Lone Star State, Democratic contender Hillary Clinton is banking on the Hispanic vote to give her an edge against rival Barack Obama. The latest polls show Clinton holding strong among Hispanics in Texas.

Liane Hansen talks with the Rev. Luis Cortes, who has been watching the Hispanic vote closely. As president of the faith-based group Esperanza USA, representing about 10,000 Hispanic churches and community groups, Cortes is one of the country's most influential evangelicals.

Cortes says among Hispanic evangelicals who are Democrats, support is stronger for Clinton because she is better known.

"She has participated over the years in Latino faith events and has been present and has shared her story, and obviously as first lady she had contact with our leadership and with leadership around the faith community," Cortes says.

He says he was in San Antonio last week for the Southern Baptist church meetings, and among the clergy, they spoke highly of Obama's speeches but hadn't had the opportunity to have contact with him and to hear some of their issues and concerns addressed.

On the Republican side, Cortes says John McCain has done well among Latino evangelical voters. "He was the only Republican who had a family matters position on immigration, and, as such, he did very, very well."

The Latino community shows a bit of a divide between younger and older voters, he says.

"A lot of the younger people who are getting involved for the first time are hearing Obama's speeches, and his speeches are pushing people to think about the larger American democracy project, and, as such, he's gathering a lot of young Latinos to move his way," Cortes says. "And then, folks who have been involved in the past, they hear the speeches but the thought patterns are, 'OK, we like what we hear, but what is the substance, what are the issues, what are the policies behind the call to a greater America?'"

Immigration is the most important issue for the Latino community, he says, and all of the candidates who are currently running have a similar position on it.

"As the process winds itself down to two candidates, it will be interesting to see how much they're willing or unwilling to raise the issue because of how it might actually hurt them with some voters who have very strong anti-immigration positions."

He says there are 42 million Latinos in the United States and 8 million undocumented Latinos — "which means almost one out of every five Latinos is undocumented. And what people don't recognize is most of those undocumented people are related to the documented. For us, it is family, so it is very intense and it is very focused in the Hispanic community, the immigration conversation."

He says immigration isn't just a Republican issue.

"The Republicans have been very hard on us, with their rhetoric, but we also have issues with the Democrats, who traditionally cut the number of visas to appease the AFL-CIO and other union and labor groups, so it's a very complex issue, but it is one that needs to be addressed by whomever becomes the president as we move forward."