October 13, 2013
Today I heard an important newcomer to Illinois politics speak: Evelyn Sanguinetti, candidate for lieutenant governor and Bruce Rauner’s running mate. These are my impressions of how she comes across live and my take on reaction from the roughly 40 people she spoke to.
For some background, throw out the usual correlations and cross tabs for this one. This is a female, Hispanic, Republican who’s not afraid to talk about the need for safety net programs. Her mother was a refugee from Castro’s Cuba who had her at age 15. She grew up in poverty near Miami, relying on food stamps, free school lunches and the rest. She ended up as a lawyer who worked for the Illinois Attorney General and just recently won a seat on the Wheaton City Council, which is her only political experience. She says she will go after the Hispanic vote full throttle. “Most of them are Republicans,” she says, “they just don’t know it.”
That’s about all I knew about her, plus I had seen a video piece on her done for the campaign in which she comes across beautifully, something I assumed image managers dressed up.
Today she spoke about fifteen minutes with no notes and took questions. She was dynamite. She talks almost solemnly about growing up in poverty and how she escaped it, but without boasting: None of that “I overcame hardship and so should everybody else” you sometimes hear from ex-poor Republicans. She used “safety net” at least three times without ridicule, and she’s not ashamed her parents needed it.
She’s comfortable with words and ideas — highly articulate, projects native intelligence, and eagerly takes on questioners. This is no Sarah Palin, to put it mildly. She spoke freely about flunking first grade because, she said, both she and some of her teachers were disengaged. It takes self-confidence to say that — she seemed to know her audience could sense her smarts so she didn’t bother to try to prove it. She blossomed later academically, winning a scholarship to college.
The audience took her in like a blast of fresh air. They seemed enthralled by her confidence and novelty. A political amateur who flunked first grade? Should be a problem, right? But that’s part of what they most liked. And she sure struck the emotional chords. I saw a few in the audience tear up when she spoke about her childhood. (When have you ever seen that with a Republican candidate?) Talking to people afterwards, all comments were glowing.
These are impressions from just one appearance where there was little discussion of the issues, no tough questioning, and the negative researchers haven’t had a shot at her yet. But if what I saw from Evelyn Sanguinetti today holds up, she’s not just a winner but a mold-smasher, and Democrats who take Hispanic support for granted may be in for a shock.