If the Democratic effort to kill the appointment of Miguel Estrada to the U.S. Court of Appeals succeeds, Estrada should return the favor by moving back to New York State and challenging his chief tormentor, Senator Charles Schumer, in the 2004 elections.
Estrada, a Honduran immigrant who graduated from Columbia University and served in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York, would be a formidable candidate against Schumer. He could at one stroke derail the ambitious Schumer’s political career and solidify the Republican hold on the Senate.
It would be justice well served. A Harvard Law School graduate, Estrada is an accomplished lawyer who practiced at the high-powered New York corporate firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz before joining the U.S. Attorney’s office, then served in the Justice Department under both Democratic and Republican administrations. Working as an assistant solicitor general, Estrada won high marks from his superiors in the Department of Justice and argued several cases before the Supreme Court. As a judicial nominee, he has earned the highest ratings possible from the American Bar Association.
But Democrats are opposing Estrada because he is their worst nightmare: a moderate Hispanic Republican who, if he distinguishes himself on the Court of Appeals, as he is likely to do, would make an imposing candidate for nomination to the Supreme Court. Led by Schumer, the Democrats are trying to derail his judicial appointment by applying standards to his nomination that are beyond what are asked of less threatening candidates—and by filibustering his confirmation, which changes the Senate’s advice and consent role in presidential appointments into something beyond what the Constitution envisions.
But Schumer and the Democrats may be unwittingly turning the gun they’ve aimed at Estrada back onto themselves. Even before the Estrada imbroglio, Republicans had been making inroads with Hispanic voters. President Bush captured 35 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2000, and his approval ratings among Hispanics have been growing during his presidency. Now, with many Latino groups reacting with outrage to the tactics employed against Estrada, more Hispanic voters may start questioning their traditional allegiance to the Democrats.
New York could be fertile ground to test this theory. Several New York Republicans have already exploited Democratic weaknesses among Hispanic voters. Gov. George Pataki captured 40 percent of the Hispanic vote last November, which is credited with helping him win his landslide reelection victory. Rudy Giuliani won 43 percent of their vote in 1997. Michael Bloomberg did even better in 2001, when nearly half of New York City’s Hispanics voted for him, providing him with his slim margin of victory.
Ronald Reagan once said that most Hispanics were Republicans—“they just don’t know it yet.” But the latest election results, especially in New York State, suggest they are discovering it, which is why Estrada—with his now very high name recognition, thanks to the campaign against him—would be such an intimidating candidate against Schumer. It isn’t merely ethnic pride that would attract Hispanics to Estrada, but a growing sense that New York State’s increasingly liberal Democratic party is out of step with the cultural values and upwardly mobile aspirations of many Latinos.
Schumer must run for reelection next year, when an Estrada candidacy in New York would be especially powerful. President Bush will be running for reelection, and the Republican national Convention will take place in Gotham. Having Bush, who speaks Spanish, campaigning with Estrada in the state’s Hispanic enclaves would be a Democrat’s nightmare, and not only because it would threaten Schumer. Bush has a chance of winning New York State in 2004—a victory that would assure his reelection—and a Bush/Estrada ticket in New York would doubtless boost the President’s chances.
Of course, the Democratic crusade against Estrada may fail, and the Honduran immigrant may yet be appointed to the bench, as he deserves. But in that case, the Republican party should strongly consider recruiting another talented and appealing Latino candidate to challenge Schumer in 2004. The party might even consider doing what the Democrats did in the 2000 Senate race: importing their best candidate from somewhere else to vie for the New York seat. Hillary Clinton showed the Republicans how to play that game. Now why not turn the tables?