Senate candidate Cruz sees no disconnect in conservative views

By Peggy Fikac
Saturday, April 14, 2012

AUSTIN — He would like English to be the official language of the United States, opposes Texas' law allowing in-state college tuition for the children of illegal immigrants, takes a dim view of bilingual education and is against the proposed federal DREAM Act.

He also is a Latino who grew up speaking Spanish and English, an immigrant's son who delights in telling of his father's journey.

For Ted Cruz, the former Texas solicitor general running in a crowded GOP primary for U.S. Senate, there's no disconnect.
"I am a conservative who also happens to be the child of an immigrant who came here penniless and not speaking English," said Cruz, 41. "I think that's the right relationship between those two."

Running to the right simply makes sense in a GOP primary, regardless of ethnicity, said Arturo Vega, associate professor of political science at St. Mary's University in San Antonio. Cruz's views are not unusual in the field.

"He's not running as an ethnic candidate," Vega said. "You don't want to run an ethnic campaign in a non-ethnic party, right?"

However, some see a potential disconnect elsewhere in Cruz's primary fight, where his best hope is to push Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst into a runoff. They say Cruz's surname may be a hurdle despite his hard-right stands, noting GOP voters two years ago rejected an incumbent railroad commissioner who blamed his Hispanic surname.
Cuban heritage

In addition, Cruz's personal story differs from the usual Texas immigration tale - his father came from Cuba, not Mexico. It is similar to the story that helped Marco Rubio to snag a U.S. Senate seat in Florida, but it may not resonate the same way in Texas, where about 8 million of the state's 9.5 million Latino population are of Mexican origin; fewer than 47,000 are Cuban.
"There is a mistake, I think, that a lot of voters make, a lot of politicians make, and a lot of people in the media make - that when we talk about Hispanics, we're talking about a very monolithic group of people," said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor of The Cook Political Report. "It's really not."

When it comes to Cruz's surname, Republicans are quick to point to GOP Latinos who have won elections and those who have left the Democratic Party. Democrats cite GOP primary losses like that of former Railroad Commissioner Victor Carrillo in 2010. He blamed his name after being defeated despite the power of incumbency and money; some Republicans said he ran a poor campaign.

"Any time a Latino is running in a contested Republican primary against a funded Anglo, they almost always lose," said Matt Angle, director of the pro-Democratic Lone Star Project. "If you set aside the fact that he (Cruz) is Latino, he just comes across as another right-wing tea party Republican. And the truth of the matter is that Dewhurst can do that just as well with an Anglo surname and a lot more money."

Cruz says his surname will not hurt him, dismissing such talk as "a narrative that Democratic political consultants want to push."
Even Cruz backers, such as former Texas Supreme Court Justice Raul Gonzalez - who in 1986 became the first Hispanic elected to state office in Texas - said a Hispanic surname is "a big hurdle" in the GOP primary. Gonzalez, elected as a Democrat but now an independent, said there is "just a natural tendency for people to go with something that's more familiar to them" in the ballot box.

"If he can survive the primary," Gonzalez said, "he has a shot."
Vega said Cruz has the same bottom-line disadvantage as former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert and former ESPN football analyst Craig James - being eclipsed by Dewhurst.

"It's really the lieutenant governor's to lose," Vega said. "If it was a competitive race, it (his surname) might matter, but this is not a competitive race."

As he works crowds on the stump, Cruz tells of his father fleeing Cuba to build a life here. It's not a story that many Texas Latinos have experienced first-hand.

"It's a totally different experience. The Cuban experience from day one has been a fight to return. The Mexican-American experience has been a fight to stay. For Mexican Americans, Cruz's Cuban-American story could be a negative factor," said Ray Gutierrez, a businessman who caught Cruz's speech to the Greater Houston Pachyderm Club last week.
Rules 'different for him'

Arturo Ballesteros, legislative director for a Democratic state senator, said Cruz's story resonates with him even though his own parents came from Mexico.

"Does his story of success impress me? Yeah. Am I proud to identify with him as a fellow Latino? Yes, of course. Is that going to resonate with a lot of Latinos in Texas? You're damn right it is," said Ballesteros, who described himself as conservative independent. "To Cruz's credit, I think he has an opportunity to speak in a way that Dewhurst could not. He has the opportunity to say 'I am Latino, I'm able to embrace conservative ideals for these reasons, and this is why I think you should, too.' "

Rebecca Acuña, Texas Democratic Party spokeswoman, called Cruz's stands "hypocritical," including his declaration that while he is against illegal immigration, he strongly supports legal immigrants "who follow the rules and come here seeking the American dream."

"The rules happen to be different for him," Acuña, said. "His father's from Cuba. He doesn't have to face the plight that a lot of undocumented immigrants here face because Cubans don't have to deal with that. So, he and his family benefited from having some sort of status just because of the country they came from."
Under federal rules, anyone from Cuba who reaches U.S. soil is allowed to remain in this country.

Senate candidate Cruz sees no disconnect in conservative views - Houston Chronicle