“It is worse than our immigration policy,” Cuccinelli said in a 2012 radio interview. “You can’t break up rat families . . . and you can’t even kill ’em.”
In a Spanish-language television ad that aired last month, Virginia’s Democratic Party denounced the comment — which Cuccinelli’s campaign said was taken out of context.
“He was talking about how disturbing it was that our laws treat rats better than people, because our laws let us break up immigrant families,” Republican Party spokesman Garren Shipley said.
But judging by interviews with Latino voters on Tuesday, the ad — which aired heavily on Spanish-language television in the weeks leading up to the election — resonated.
“He talks about our community with no respect,” said Umberto Adrian, a Manassas resident who was born in Bolivia and has lived in Virginia for 30 of his 60 years. “I can’t understand why a professional like him would refer to immigrants as if they are not human.”
Some Latino voters who said they were spurred to action by the commercial appeared to have their own interpretations of what Cuccinelli actually said.
“Cuccinelli called Hispanic people rats,” said Mary Alba, 74, a retired bakery worker. “I want people in office who know we need immigrant people. In this country we need people like immigrants, who work hard.”
Pedro Delcid, 40, perceived the remark in a slightly different, but equally derogatory, way. “This man was talking bad about our people. He said we reproduce like rats,” said Delcid, who lives in Manassas. “This is the one issue that brought me here today. I have an issue with the way he talks about immigrants.”
Delcid and his wife Rosa fled a civil war in El Salvador and settled in Northern Virginia more than two decades ago. They said they were also motivated to vote because of the tough ordinance regarding undocumented immigrants that was passed in Prince William County six years ago.
“If you don’t vote, you can’t complain,” said Pedro Delcid, owner of a small remodeling company. “Our people felt persecuted. . . . We are tired that they blame us for everything. It’s up to us to make sure the politicians hear that.”
Adrian, who owns a small construction company, said McAuliffe supports issues important to Latinos, including President Obama’s signature health-care law, which Cuccinelli strongly opposes, and immigration reform.
“A lot of Latinos and people of limited resources will benefit from Obamacare,” Adrian said. Even though his own family members are all U.S. citizens, he said he also supports the Dream Act, which allows children who were brought to the United States by undocumented immigrant parents to earn legal residency in the United States.
Like Delcid, Adrian recalled friends and acquaintances who moved away from Prince William County after the 2007 law was passed.
“They abandoned their homes and left out of fear,” Adrian said. “We can change this only by actively participating in the election.”
In addition to voting for McAuliffe, Adrian and his family cast ballots Tuesday for Richard Cabellos, a Latino candidate who is challenging Republican Jackson Hunter Miller for a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates.
Adrian’s U.S.-born daughter, 25-year-old Daniela, said she wants more minority representation, to better reflect the diverse communities of Northern Virginia.
“We have not been represented,” she said. “I think we need to get the word out more that this is an important election. We have to not only look out for ourselves but for our entire community.”
For Julio Cesar Castro-Rojas, Obamacare was also a defining issue, but he took a different approach than Adrian did.
“I am against Obamacare,” the 52-year-old Peruvian immigrant said. “Its always a bad idea when the government tries to take control of everything.”
Castro-Rojas, 52, of Bristow, stood outside the Jackson precinct in Manassas handing out fliers in support of Cuccinelli. A resident of Virginia since 1992, he said he left his native Peru because of the efforts there to nationalize private-sector industries. “What we need is to focus on supporting the small businesses and creating jobs,” he said.
Castro-Rojas started his American dream as a cleaner in Union Station three decades ago and now owns a contracting company, Rojas Contractors. He said he supports Cuccinelli’s free-market views and believes Virginia is better off without mandatory health care.
“We come to this country to work hard and respect the laws,” he said. “If Ken Cuccinelli wins, he will support minorities and small businesses. That’s what we need in Virginia.”
He blamed lack of support for Cuccinelli in the growing Latino community on poor communication within the Republican Party and political propaganda. “The labor unions are working for the Democratic Party and spreading their message among the hard-working people while there is a shortage of Republican leadership,” Castro-Rojas said.
Mia Maynard said she turned out to vote just to support Cabellos, a Democrat running for the Virginia House in District 50.
An appearance by Cabellos at Jackson High School in Manassas on Tuesday afternoon cheered Maynard and other supporters.
“There needs to be change,” said Maynard, 28, of Manassas, wearing a Virginia Commonwealth University sweatshirt that prompted Cabellos, a VCU graduate, to shout, “Go Rams!”
“It’s exciting to see a Hispanic running in Prince William County,” said Maynard, who is black. “All minorities are kind of excluded here.”
She said she could relate to Cabellos, an immigrant who runs tutoring programs at a Reston community center. Cabellos ran on an agenda to improve education and transportation solutions, including plans to push for an expansion of Metro to Prince William.
“People are looking down on those who are unemployed, on people who are poor or lack resources. But Richard seems to be in touch with the community,” she said.
“Because of the politics here, they are excited to see a Latino running for office,” said Cabellos, a native of Peru who was brought to the United States as a baby.
Patricia Sullivan contributed to this report.