Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio are being caught wrong-footed in their own backyard.
GOP presidential contender Donald Trump recently did the unthinkable, taking his campaign to the heart of enemy territory in Florida, home of Bush and Rubio. Amid thousands of adoring fans gathered at the Trump National Doral Miami resort, he told his audience: "I'm winning Florida! I'm beating Bush and Rubio!"
Trump's boast says much about the falling fortunes of the formerly invincible Bush, Florida's ex-governor and the early favorite of big donors. But it's also bad news for Rubio, a presiding senator from Florida. Both men have failed to distance themselves from Trump's anti-immigrant politics. As a result, they've given away an advantage in the presidential race.
Strangely, these two sons of Florida have been desperately competing for the same base of GOP activists that support Trump's positions on issues ranging from immigration to minimum wage. That is a recipe for disaster because neither Bush nor Rubio have the charisma or rhetorical skills necessary to defeat Trump in a debate on these matters.
Stranger still is the failure of these two to make significant headway among Latino voters nationwide. Both candidates are fluent in Spanish and are members of Latino families. You would think that they would be able to successfully reach out to Latino voters nationally.
The reason Latinos outside Florida are not rushing to support Rubio and Bush is because of their stances on pivotal issues. Latinos have neither forgotten nor forgiven Rubio's 2013 retreat on comprehensive immigration reform. They are even more perplexed at his insistence that the issue now cannot even be addressed until some hypothetical moment in the future when the United States has achieved "border security."
Both candidates support the newest wave of Voter ID laws sweeping the country. If Bush and Rubio can't even be bothered to defend their right to vote, why should Latinos give them their support?
A large number of Latinos are hurting economically. This is why economic issues are paramount in their minds. Nonpartisan polling data consistently shows that most Latinos are in favor of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), Medicaid expansion and restoring the right of collective bargaining. A whopping 84 percent of Latinos support raising the federal minimum wage. Rubio and Bush are on record as opposing all of these measures.
These missed opportunities to expand their base of support will likely cost both candidates dearly. Latinos make up more than one-tenth of eligible voters across the country and are a decisive force in vote-rich states such as California, Illinois and New York.
Republicans need Latino votes to win the general election. Bush and Rubio seem like their best shot. But if those two candidates continue to miss opportunities, it could spell doom for their party in November.
Paul Ortiz, is director of the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program and associate professor of history at the University of Florida.