American history records Ben Fernandez as the first legitimate candidate for president. Fernandez, a Republican financial whiz, ran for the GOP nomination in 1980, the year Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter for President.
About 112 years before, however, if he had wanted the presidency, Civil War hero Admiral David Farragut would have been the first Hispanic president of the United States. He chose not to accept the GOP nomination and it went to Ulysses S. Grant instead. Farragut’s father came from Spain in the 1770s.
Eight years later, the United States experienced its very first elected Hispanic politician, California’s Romauldo Pacheco. He had been born a Mexican citizen in Mexican California and became an American citizen when California became part of the United States. He was first elected a state senator, then state controller, then lieutenant governor. He served as the commanding general of the California Native Cavalry, a Union Army unit during the Civil War (1861-1865) and kept tight control over myriad Confederate terrorist groups operating in California and the Arizona Territory.
When Gov. Newton Booth was elected to the U.S. Senate, Lt. Governor Pacheco became governor, the first Hispanic governor in the country. After serving as governor, Pacheco was elected to the House of Representatives. The election was contested and Pacheco was not seated. He ran again and won decisively. He was the first Hispanic elected to Congress. He later was appointed as an ambassador. He was the first Hispanic to serve as an ambassador.
Fast forward to 1988 when Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, whose parents were Greek immigrants, became the first non-Anglo-Saxon Democrat candidate for president. He considered San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros, a Mexican American, as his vice-presidential candidate. That was eight years after Fernandez ran in the New Hampshire GOP primary.
Then, nothing. Nothing until a bright young Miami-born son of Cuban immigrants decided to run for the Florida State Legislature. His name was Marco Rubio. He won; he plunged into the Tallahassee political maelstrom befriended by Governor Jeb Bush. The unknown Miami real estate lawyer immersed himself in the legislative apparatus and took over the house when he was elected Speaker of the House, second in political power in Florida to the Governor.
When he announced he was running for the United States Senate against Governor Charlie Crist, who was dumping the governor’s office to become, he thought, a member of the most deliberative body in the world, the United States Senate. Polls showed the unknown Miami lawyer Marco Rubio barely showing up in polls, with 5 percent.
As it turned out, Governor Crist simply could not cut it; too much baggage, too much corruption while attorney general and governor, too many millions of criminal-inspired campaign contributions by people headed for prison. Rubio ran so well that Crist abandoned his life-long Republican Party and became an Independent. Rubio squashed him; Charlie received just 30 percent in the November election. United States Senator Rubio was sworn in as Senator in January 2011.
It was my pleasure to have hosted senate candidate Rubio on a California visit and to introduce him to two influential California Republican groups that he enchanted with his intelligence, charisma and ability to talk with, not to. That was five months before he was elected.
I have worked as a volunteer or professional or contributor in every presidential campaign since Eisenhower’s in 1952, when I wore “I Like Ike” buttons in the 7th grade.
The three hours I spent with Marco in June 2010 were very instructive; I determined that he had it, he had what I saw in Ronald Reagan back in 1980. He had it. This man would be president someday. People like him.
So now, here we are in April almost five years to the day when I met senate candidate Marco Rubio and all political eyes are on Miami’s Freedom Tower where he announced he was running for President of the United States.
In announcing, Marco Rubio becomes the first bona fide Hispanic candidate for president since Admiral of the Fleet David Farragut declined the GOP nomination in 1868, 147 years ago.
Recent polls show that Marco is looked on more favorably than any other Republican running or talked about for President of the United States. He seems to be everyone’s second choice.
Whether or not he wins the nomination this time, his future is assured. He is not running for the senate so he can concentrate on running for president. If he falls short, the vice-presidency beckons the 43-year-old. If that fails, he can run for Florida governor and walk into that office in 2018. He will be 51 when the Presidency is open again in 2024.
There are millions of Americans who can only dream of such a political career in front of them as that of United States Senator Marco Rubio. He is a legitimate candidate for President of the United States. He is the most prominent American Hispanic politician since California’s Governor Romauldo Pacheco.
Raoul Lowery Contreras is a political consultant. He was formerly with the New American News Service of the New York Times Syndicate. Contreras's books are available at Amazon.com