Government prof. talks Texas primary

Photo Credit: Rachel Lau

 Regardless of whether politics is your “thing” or not, it affects each and every one of us. With the presidential election this year, who takes office next January can affect everything from our education to job search to personal choices.
With the Texas Primary Election on May 29, which was moved from its original April 3 date due to redistricting disputes, Longhorn Life sat down with Jason Casellas, Ph.D., assistant professor in government to talk about his views on the 2012 presidential race.
Longhorn Life: Tell us a little bit about yourself. Why did you choose to study politics and government? How did you narrow your interest to race and ethnicity?
Jason Casellas: I wrote my first book on Latino representation in state legislatures and Congress, so my area of interest is Latino politics, but I also study congressional elections and state politics. In college as a political science and history major, I wrote a senior thesis on the relationship between political parties and the Latino community and it struck me as I was writing that there is not a lot of literature or work on this topic, partially because the Latino community is growing at such a massive rate. After taking a year off to think about what I wanted to do, I decided to go into a Ph.D. program in politics.
LL: As you specialize in Latino politics, what do you think of Mitt Romney’s mid-March win in Puerto Rico? Do you think he and other candidates are appealing to the Latino population in the right way?
Casellas: I think we can assume that Romney’s win in Puerto Rico is sort of indicative of larger appeals to the Latino community in the United States. Even Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico are different than Puerto Ricans in New York or Florida, because there are different issues that appeal to them. The turnout in Puerto Rico is much higher than in New York, so I don’t think we can assume that Mitt Romney will do well among Puerto Ricans generally in the U.S. Puerto Ricans are really strong Democrats, so I can imagine that Obama will do much better among them than Romney, not withstanding his win in Puerto Rico.
LL: Romney announced the Puerto Rico win at the Illinois rally and told the crowd, “I intend to become our nominee and I intend to get Latino voters to vote for a Republican and take back the White House.” Do you think Latinos will vote for a Republican?
Casellas: Certainly he needs them to and that’s one of the issues that Republicans have had in the past. George W. Bush did a good job trying to appeal to the Latino community. His compassion, conservatism and speaking Spanish — even if it wasn’t good Spanish — at least showed that he cared; whereas what we see with the Republican field today is quite the opposite, I think.
LL: What do you think is the biggest challenge for presidential hopefuls in the 2012 election?
Casellas: The President’s challenge is to make sure that he can make the case to the American people that the economy will be getting better, unemployment will be getting lower and that there will be stability worldwide in terms of Iran and other challenges. Should Romney get the nomination, his challenge is to convince the American people that he will do a better job than Obama with the economy. With the Latino community, Obama’s challenge is getting Latinos to turn out to vote. Many are upset with Obama for not doing a lot to help the Latino community, especially with immigration. His challenge will be to get Latinos as excited as they were in 2008 to go to the polls. For Republicans, Romney needs to do a better job of appealing to Latinos. He needs to get much more than the latest poll of 15 percent of the Latino vote.
LL: What is your view on the role that social media plays in politics and political campaigns?
Casellas: Social media has an increasingly important and critical role with Twitter and Facebook, and it’s a good way for candidates to get their messages out. However, it can be a double-edged sword because sometimes they do too much or tweet things that are controversial. And while campaign surrogates do this more often than the campaigners themselves, they still have to be careful not to say or do anything that would harm their campaign. That’s the larger issue with this 24-hour campaign. These campaign embeds are following them everywhere and listening to everything they say, so any little thing you say that can be taken out of context will be covered.
LL: What predictions for the Texas Primary Election?
Casellas: On the Republican side for the presidential race it appears that Rick Santorum will probably win in Texas. This is a delegate fight in terms of who gets the most delegates, and I think, at the end of the day, Romney will probably get the most. But, it will be a slow uphill climb, especially given that Texas has a lot of delegates and a lot of other southern states have already gone for Santorum.
LL: What advice would you give to students and others that would encourage them to get involved and exercise their right to vote?
Casellas: It’s important to learn about the candidates and not just vote for someone because they are a Democrat or a Republican. It’s important to look at and study the issues and go to campaign websites, and also realizing that campaign websites will put a spin for their side so it’s important to look at other independent agencies. The group PolitiFact fact-checks all the claims by different candidates and you can see if the claims made by them are true, so that’s a good website for students to go to. More generally, there is a website called Project Vote Smart, which looks at issues of all the candidates in a very non-partisan way. You can even do a questionnaire and, by showing which issues you support, it will match a candidate that best supports your issues — all the way from presidential candidates to school board officials.