LOS ANGELES-It's time for the GOP to put its money where its mouth is.
Everyone from George W. Bush on down knows that grabbing a larger share of the Hispanic vote is crucial to the Republican future. But of the eight congressional districts with the greatest possibility of producing new Latino members of Congress-Arizona 7th, Colorado 1st, Nevada 3rd, New Mexico 1st and 2nd, Florida 25th, and California 18th and 39th-only two have GOP Hispanic hopefuls.
Florida's 25th is one of them. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Cuban-American state legislator whose brother is in Congress, helped to draw the map of this new, 64 percent Hispanic district, and he is favored. The major Republican breakthrough opportunity among Mexican-Americans, though, lies in California's 39th, 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 50-28 lead in voter registration there.
But wait. The Democratic candidate, Linda Sanchez (sister of Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, who during the 1990s used illegal voters to oust Bob Dornan), 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, Republican candidate Tim Escobar, 35, has a political grand-slam biography. Labor: Has been a member of two unions, including the United Auto Workers. Business: Ten years managing investments with Merrill Lynch, and a former president of the La Mirada chamber of commerce. Military, in these post-9/11 days: U.S. army officer and a pilot in the National Guard, qualified to fly the AH-1F Cobra Attack Helicopter. Church: Deacon at Calvary Baptist, educated in Christian schools, homeschooling his four children.
Over hamburgers (no onions) in a Los Angeles restaurant, Mr. 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 Ms. Sanchez, Mr. Escobar grew up in the cities that now comprise the 39th district. 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 and, as a Christian, self-governing."
He knows that Ms. 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."
He crisply and convincingly offers his positions for tax cuts and for welfare policies "that give people the chance to earn their own dignity back." He is against leaving "education in the hands of bureaucrats who hope to use the power of the textbook to alter our civilization." He believes he can win because of his ties to the district, along with the residual effect of Ms. Sanchez's negative campaigning and the popularity of President Bush on domestic as well as defense issues: "George W. has taken education, welfare, and other issues away from the Democrats. They're left with gays, abortion, and Jesse Jackson."
His dynamic candidacy is a gift to the GOP. "No party element found me," he noted. "There was no organized recruiting effort, 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 Mr. Escobar's campaign, because he is probably right when he says, "This [congressional] seat is ours if we want it." And if he is 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, he could quickly become, for Democrats, the most dangerous man in American politics.