LOS ANGELES -- It's time for the national GOP to put its money where its mouth is.
Everyone from George W. Bush on down knows that getting a larger share of the Hispanic vote is crucial to the Republican future. But if you look at the eight congressional districts with the greatest possibility of producing new Latino members of Congress, only one has a GOP candidate from a Mexican-American background.
The major Republican breakthrough opportunity lies in California 39, a newly created, majority-Hispanic district just east of Los Angeles. The national GOP so far hasn't paid much attention to the district, because the California legislature built it for Democrats, who have a 50-to-28 lead in voter registration there.
That figure means less than meets the eye. The Democratic candidate, Linda Sanchez (sister of Rep. Loretta Sanchez)), won the nomination after she moved into the district and used big bucks from outsiders to trash her opponent. Even so, she nabbed only 33 percent of the March primary vote, and even the liberal Los Angeles Times noted that "Sanchez's barrage of negative mailers and cable television advertisements angered many Latino leaders."
Meanwhile, the Republican candidate, Tim Escobar, 35, has a political grand slam biography. Labor: He has been a member of two unions, including the United Auto Workers. Business. He spent 10 years managing investments with Merrill Lynch and is the former president of the La Mirada chamber of commerce. Military, in these post-9-11 days: He is U.S army officer and a pilot in the National Guard, qualified to fly the AH-1F Cobra Attack Helicopter. Church: He's a deacon at Calvary Baptist.
Over hamburgers (no onions) in a Los Angeles restaurant, Escobar discussed his own and the nation's political future: "People shouldn't vote for me only because I'm an Escobar... I believe in
e pluribus unum (from many, one). Americanism is an ideology, not a bloodline." He wants schools to teach English to everyone, "as a unifying device," and he wants voters to choose him because of his experience, his values and his identification with the district.
That's important in a congressional race: Unlike Sanchez, Escobar grew up in the cities that now comprise District 39. So did his parents, his wife of 13 years and his in-laws: "My dad's a phone man, my mom a bank teller. My dad was an example for us, working two or three jobs and teaching us the importance of being self-reliant."
He knows that Sanchez will attack him as "a gun-toting, anti-choice conservative," and he has ready responses. Gun-toting? "As a military officer, I've maintained a commitment to protect this nation." Anti-choice? "I am against abortion, and my aim is to promote a community where life is important. My opponent is not pro-choice, she's pro-abortion, and that's not what this district is about."
Escobar crisply and convincingly offers his positions for tax cuts and for welfare policies "that give people the chance to earn their own dignity back." His dynamic candidacy is a gift to the GOP. "There was no organized recruiting effort," he noted, "because they're looking only at the party registration figures. But if you don't ask for the sale, you won't get it. If you don't fight for electoral victory, you'll never get it."
It's time for the GOP to fight, and to pump funds into Escobar's campaign, because he is probably right when he says "This (congressional) seat is ours if we want it." And if he gets elected, he has the personality and disciplined aggressiveness to play an important role in the GOP's efforts to gain more votes among Hispanics, a socially conservative group.
If elected, Tim Escobar could quickly become, for Democrats, the most dangerous man in American politics.