Jeb Bush was loose before his campaign kickoff event Monday in Miami, joking around backstage and letting loose a dirty word in Spanish, a "colloquial street Miami thing,” said Jose Mallea, Bush's hire for connecting with Hispanic voters.
"I don't want to repeat it, it was a curse word," he said in a phone interview.
That wasn't all, of course. He spoke in Spanish to the crowd, asking them to join his "cause of opportunity for all, the cause of all who love liberty, the noble cause of the United States."
It's this biculturalism — a comfort level he has speaking to Latinos, from Cubans in Miami to Mexican-Americans like his wife and kids or Puerto Ricans when he ran his dad's primary campaign there in 1980, that supporters and Latino Republicans say gives him an edge on other Republican candidates, and one the Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton doesn't actually possess.
Beyond the conventional wisdom that Latinos will be charmed by a former governor from a famous family who speaks their language fluently, Bush’s campaign is already making plans to weaponize those advantages into a vigorous effort to convince Latinos to vote Republican, a long-term effort to bring people out for Bush in key states, if not necessarily in some of the early primary states that come first.
The Bush campaign plans to create in-house videos about the candidate and his family, multiple sources told BuzzFeed News, meant to be shared socially and with Spanish-language stations that might not have the resources to follow Bush around, but who might like a video of the candidate meeting with Hispanic business owners in Colorado, for example.
There will also be major investment in a Spanish-language media buy campaign, led by Mallea, who served as Marco Rubio's campaign manager and was national strategic director for the Koch brother-funded LIBRE Initiative, which has made waves, serving Latino communities in key states, but drawing the ire of Democrats who say the group misrepresents itself.
The plan is for Bush to dedicate a portion of his expected $75 million to $100 million war chest to flooding Spanish-language media in print, radio, TV and online, which happened to be Mallea's forte for LIBRE.
Mallea, who avoided specifics, said the approach will be robust. "It will be as big or bigger than anybody else in this election, Democrat or Republican," he said.
He said "the whole team" will be involved: Bush's wife Columba, and sons Jeb Jr. and George P., who is in Nevada Wednesday holding a campaign event on his own.
Longtime Bush allies Al Cardenas and Ana Navarro said the campaign will strive to offer very few differences between English and Spanish-language content.
"The campaign will reach out to minority groups in a much more significant way than any other presidential campaign before," Cardenas said.
Navarro said that Bush loves that his campaign headquarters is on the edge of Sweetwater, a town nicknamed "Little Managua" for having the largest concentration of Nicaraguans in the U.S. — a place "where Nicaraguan fritangas stand next to Chick-fil-A's."
She said Bush may not be Hispanic by birth but is bicultural and everyone who has ever worked for him understands earning the Hispanic vote is a top priority.
"There is going to be a vigorous campaign for the Hispanic vote and it is all Jeb driven," she said. "Jeb's not one to treat earning the Hispanic vote as a specialty or niche thing, like many campaigns do. It is part and parcel of the general effort."
The campaign points to a separate Spanish-language launch video, with Bush speaking great Spanish, as an example of what it expects to continue to do.
Mallea, who chose Bush over Rubio, is seen as top talent for this role by both Democrats and Republicans.
Democratic pollster Fernand Amandi said his decision should be seen as a rebuke of Rubio. "Mallea by all intents and purposes should be in Rubio's camp," he said. "But he looked at both and decided to go to Jeb, which is very telling because he knows them both intimately."
When Mallea chose Bush over Rubio he told the Miami Herald the decision was a no-brainer: "The decision in terms of who's going to be a better president and who's ready to be president — that wasn't hard."
Amandi said there aren't a lot of success stories for Republicans with Latino voters, but one that stands out is Rubio in 2010, when Mallea was his campaign manager. (Later on, in 2011, when Mallea was running Florida for Newt Gingrich, they took down a Spanish-language ad from the campaign that called Mitt Romney anti-immigrant and slammed him to Miami Cubans for once using a line made popular by Fidel Castro, after Rubio called the ad "unfortunate," "inaccurate," and "inflammatory.")
Amandi said he expects the campaign to be aggressive and maybe even innovative in its outreach to Latinos, which would square with Bush's rationale for his candidacy.
"The center for Jeb's argument is that he can win and at the heart of winning for Republicans is doing better with the Hispanic vote than they've done in the last two cycles," he said. But he said the Bush family approach has always been a "love and kisses" one to the Hispanic community because, with the exception of immigration, "they can't connect with them on matters of policy."
Luis Alvarado, a Republican strategist, said he has received indications that the Bush campaign would pursue this Hispanic outreach plan, and he said in conversations with Mallea and newly named campaign manager Danny Diaz, they made it clear lessons have been learned from Mitt Romney's failed 2012 campaign.
As an example, he cited that Romney campaign leaders decided not to do "important Latino outreach."
"When you hire a Latino operative for optics only, you're going to fail," he said.
People that know Mallea say he understands the nuances and differences among the Latino community — something they believe is easy to talk about, but harder to really get in practice.
Mallea said an example of this can be found in the Southwest states like Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico. It's not just the difference between New Mexico and Nevada, he said, but drilling deeper Albuquerque and Santa Fe are different themselves and "from a communications standpoint, sending the right messengers, having local people be part of the campaign" is important.
LIBRE's executive director, Daniel Garza, said Mallea's plan could be a gamechanger.
"It's a great idea, my father had a saying. 'Tell me what you give your attention to and I'll tell you who you are,'" he said. "Deliberately focusing content that Latinos can relate to, that is giving them attention and earning their vote, in the long term it's genius."
Garza said that fundamentally the voter is going to ask themselves one question: Will my life be better if I vote for this person or that person?
"The person who can communicate that will win," he said. "If you're in our churches, colleges, Chambers of Commerce speaking to us with tailored messaging, you're speaking my language, then I can connect with you."
And the campaign is banking on Latinos to listen, in a way they haven't to a Republican since it was George W. Bush speaking to them and seeking their vote.
Adrian Carrasquillo is the White House correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Adrian Carrasquillo at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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