The Democratic National Convention Committee announced yesterday that DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz will nominate Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa as Chair of the 2012 Democratic National Convention.
“The Permanent Chair presides over the convention proceedings, ensuring order, decorum and efficiency as the party nominates its presidential and vice presidential candidates, adopts the national platform, and conducts other important business,” Wasserman Schultz explained in an email to DNC supporters. “The Permanent Chair also acts as another national spokesperson for the convention.”
The press dutifully filtered Villaraigosa’s nomination through the now predictable “Latino vote” lens:
“Villaraigosa is one of the nation’s most prominent elected Latino officials and envisions an active role in Obama’s reelection effort,” wrote the Los Angeles Times, which first broke the story. “The White House, in turn, is counting heavily on strong Latino turnout.”
“Overseeing the gathering will also place the Latino mayor front and center as Democrats woo Latino support for Obama and other candidates,” the AP declared.
“It’s also a move that underscores that national Democrats are seeking to woo Latino voters ahead of what is shaping up to be a competitive 2012 race,” The Washington Post added.
This analysis is partially right. In the aggregate, Villaraigosa’s chairmanship, along with other recent developments such as Cecilia Munoz’s promotion within the White House, does send a signal that Obama and the Democratic Party are taking the Latino vote seriously, but it’s a signal meant for grass-tops and the media, not voters.
No one individual helps with the totality of the Hispanic vote. As recently as 2010, a Pew Hispanic Study found that the Latino community has no national leader, but rather regional influencers. When asked to name the person they consider “the most important Latino leader in the country today,” nearly two-thirds of Hispanic respondents said they didn’t know and 10 percent said “no one.” Three percent named Villaraigosa.
Furthermore, Villaraigosa’s nomination is one of those rare political calculuses that involve each party receiving equal rewards. Democrats get an experienced executive, and eloquent, (sort-of) bilingual surrogate, and Villaraigosa receives a national platform just as his mayoral term is expiring. The Latino vote is only a part of the equation.