SAN DIEGO, California (CNN) -- You'll hear a lot about the Hispanic vote leading up to "Super Duper Tuesday" on February 5. That's when presidential primaries occur in 23 states, several with large Hispanic populations.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.: Republicans will likely take a thumping among Hispanic voters over immigration.
Already, some of the candidates are retooling their message and trying to find ways to talk to Hispanics without sounding loco.
Hillary Clinton got off to a rocky start. While chatting with Hispanic voters in a Mexican restaurant in Las Vegas, Nevada, last week, she stretched for an analogy to explain how all Americans are connected and their problems interconnected despite the fact that "we treat them as though one is guacamole and one is chips."
Aiy caramba! Quick rule of thumb: The nation's 46 million Hispanics are a proud people who have accomplished a great deal, have fought and died for this country in every military conflict dating back to the Civil War, and who embody the American Dream. If you're a politician who is trying to relate to them -- but your own knowledge of the group doesn't extend beyond whatever is on the No. 3 combination plate -- you want to be careful not to be so tone deaf that you wind up insulting them.
That also goes for the reporters and pundits who, having packed away their winter clothes, are headed for the Sun Belt where they'll try to unpack the mystery of the Hispanic voter.
Good luck. It's a complicated subject. Cuban-Americans often vote Republican, but Puerto Ricans are more likely to vote Democratic. The largest subgroup, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans are up for grabs. They're conservative, especially on social issues, and yet mostly identify with Democrats, while sometimes crossing party lines to vote for moderate Republicans.
In this election, Republicans will likely take a thumping since many Hispanics blame them for turning the immigration debate into a culture clash and giving it an anti-Hispanic flavor.
Under the best of circumstances, newspapers, magazines, and television networks struggle to cover the Hispanic community and often come up short -- in part because they don't have enough Hispanics on staff. Despite representing nearly 15 percent of the population, Hispanics make up about 4 percent of journalists.
I'm astonished that the Sunday morning talk shows manage to talk about the immigration issue with panels of contributors and commentators that usually don't include a single Hispanic voice.
So, you'll have to forgive NBC's Tim Russert for making a rookie mistake when, during an appearance last week on the "Today" show, he was asked by Matt Lauer what it meant that Bill Richardson had ended his quest for the presidency. With the first serious Hispanic candidate for president out of the race, Russert said that it meant that the Hispanic vote is wide open.
The Hispanic vote has always been wide open. Last month, in a survey of registered Hispanic Democratic voters, the Pew Hispanic Center found that Hillary Clinton had the support of 59 percent. Barack Obama was backed by 15 percent. Bill Richardson had 8 percent. And John Edwards had 4 percent.
Clinton doesn't deserve that level of support from Hispanics, and maybe the race will tighten before February 5. Still, for now, if you're in her camp, a margin like that is worth celebrating.
Chips and guacamole, anyone?
Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a member of the editorial board of the San Diego Union-Tribune and a nationally syndicated columnist. You can read his column here.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer. E-mail to a friend
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