Though former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has deep ties to Hispanics — his wife of more than 40 years is Mexican — he should not take the Latino vote for granted in his bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, experts say.
"Latino voters have proven more than willing to reject even actual Latinos as candidates when their policy positions are in contrast to the community preferences," Matt Barreto, co-founder of polling and research firm Latino Decisions, told CNN.
"Bush's marriage and linguistic skills, while symbolically important, would founder if his issue positions are in contrast to the average Latino voter."
Bush, 62, who announced his candidacy on Monday,
spoke Spanish 27 minutes into his speech at the Miami-Dade College campus in Kendall, Fla. He was surrounded by 3,000 supporters, many of whom were Hispanic.
He also learned Spanish as a teenager, spent three years in Venezuela — and taught English in a small village outside the Mexican city of Leon in a student exchange program.
Bush met Columba Garnica de Gallo on that trip. They married in 1974 and have three children and four grandchildren.
Still, the former Florida governor's stance on immigration has been "all over the map," said Barreto, a professor of political science and Chicano studies at UCLA.
"When he was not a candidate he was much stronger on immigration reform," he told CNN. "In his book, he said that he would never support a path towards citizenship, which is a step too far.
"Later, he came out on a Sunday morning show softening his position, but saying he doesn't support amnesty.
"He's going to have to clarify his position if he truly wants to attract the Latino vote," Barreto said.
More than 25 million Hispanics are eligible to vote in the United States, CNN reports. In 2012, 17 percent of all Hispanic eligible voters lived in the key battleground states of Colorado, Florida, Iowa, and Nevada, according to the Pew Research Center.
President Barack Obama won 70 percent of the Hispanic vote in the race against former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, CNN reports.
In his announcement, Bush did not plan to speak on immigration, but hecklers forced him to briefly depart from his prepared remarks to address the issue.
"The next president will pass meaningful immigration reform so that will be resolved — not by executive order," said Bush, who governed in Tallahassee from 1999 to 2007.
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