I wouldn't call them smug, exactly, but Democrats seem to be quite confident that once again they will win the Hispanic vote in 2016 with a big enough margin that assures them the White House. Certainly, congressional Republicans have done everything within their power to antagonize Latino voters. Nevertheless, this confidence is the soft underbelly of the Democratic Party's 2016 victory calculus.

Thrusting at that vulnerable spot is the Koch political empire that is doing its own electoral math. Even by some Republican estimates, the next GOP presidential nominee will need to garner at least 40 percent of the Latino vote in 2016 to cobble together a national victory.

All of Washington and an increasing number of Americans are aware of the Koch brothers' growing and massive infusion of cash into local and national races. It's fair to assume that the Koch operation also sees the demographic writing on the wall for the Republican Party. With 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney's ruinous 27 percent of the Latino vote, he was not competitive in a host of battleground states that Republicans must win in order to send their next man to the White House.


In comes the Libre Initiative. This cog of the Koch political machine, which has received approximately $10 million dollars in Koch funding (that we know of), is tasked with convincing Hispanics to vote against their own economic self-interest.

Waging a strategic, highly funded, ruthless war on the air, media appearances and op-eds, Libre was, for example, instrumental in helping defeat former Rep. Joe GarciaJoe Antonio GarciaFormer Florida congressman fined 6K in campaign finance scheme Overnight Defense: Biden honors McCain at Phoenix memorial service | US considers sending captured ISIS fighters to Gitmo and Iraq | Senators press Trump on ending Yemen civil war Biden pays tribute to McCain at emotional memorial service MORE (D-Fla.) and electing a conservative Republican, Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloProtecting the freedom to vote should be a bipartisan issue Former lawmakers sign brief countering Trump's claims of executive privilege in Jan. 6 investigation A conservative's faith argument for supporting LGBTQ rights MORE, who most likely would not have won this close election without the massive injection of Koch cash.

In fact, across races in 2014, Libre (in an Orwellian turn of phrase, it means "Liberty" in Spanish) has either helped turn out the Hispanic vote for Republicans, or more significantly and threatening to Democrats, depressed the Latino vote even as they've advocated for policies that directly and adversely impact American Latinos.

For example, in its barrage of 2014 cycle ads attacking ObamaCare, Libre threw sand in the eyes of voters, blinding them to vote (or abstain) against their own healthcare needs. In fact, ObamaCare has dramatically driven down the rate of uninsured Hispanics across age groups. The specter of getting sick and going bankrupt, or leaving illnesses untreated until they become critical and are finally dealt with in emergency rooms at great cost and risk, has been lifted for millions of people.

Yet to hear Libre's commercials, and you'd think that ObamaCare is the second coming of Joseph Stalin. But that's not all. Libre also opposes a hike in the minimum wage, supports "voter ID laws" that suppress the Hispanic vote, and even pushed the GOP's big lie that "illegals" are voting and impacting electoral outcomes.

It's a safe bet that Libre will be even more active in the 2016 cycle. Having proven its efficacy in 2014 and with a big team of operatives to execute — presumably garnering a big chunk of Koch cash to fund the growing operation — Koch's Libre poses a serious risk to Democrats' presidential and congressional 2016 ambitions.

Yet even as Democratic candidates were hammered by Libre, there is no visible effort by the Democratic Party and their supporters to counter this clear and present danger. The miserable Hispanic voter turnout in 2014 was due, in part, to the stunning complacency and arrogant confidence of Democratic politicians and their advisors that Latinos would support them regardless of election tactics such as effective messaging and outreach.

In one particularly stunning case of political malpractice, Colorado's Sen. Mark UdallMark Emery UdallKennedy apologizes for calling Haaland a 'whack job' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Haaland courts moderates during tense confirmation hearing | GOP's Westerman looks to take on Democrats on climate change | White House urges passage of House public lands package Udalls: Haaland criticism motivated 'by something other than her record' MORE (D) was unseated by pro-deportation advocate Cory GardnerCory GardnerGun control group alleges campaign finance violations in lawsuit against NRA Colorado Supreme Court signs off on new congressional map Colorado remap plan creates new competitive district MORE (R). Udall's Spanish-language TV spot was centered on veterans' issues. While Hispanics care about veterans as much as the rest of America, the economy, education and healthcare are the issues that consistently poll at the top of America Latinos' concerns. One has to wonder if anybody at all was advising Udall on proper — and basic — Hispanic messaging.

During the midterm campaign, Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, member of Congress from Florida, several times proclaimed on my radio show that Democrats would be unleashing a massive Latino get-out-the-vote effort. Either those claims were hyperbole, or the effort proved ineffective. In any case, Latino voter turnout in 2014 was essentially flat relative to 2010's already dismal turnout.

With less than one year before the Iowa caucuses, Democrats must wake up. The Latino vote is not theirs for the taking. Latinos, by big margins, will support Democrats if the party works smart, strategically and critically and if it fully funds these efforts.

It's time for Democrats to create their own version of the Libre Initiative — a mirror organization that clearly and forcibly advocates for American Latinos' true interests; that uses modern, data-driven bilingual communications and get-out-the-vote strategies; and, finally, that can close the big strategic and funding gap successfully exploited in 2014 by the Koch machine and its front organizations.

Only when the Democratic Party takes Latino voters seriously enough to engage them will their candidates be truly competitive in 2016.

Espuelas, a Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute, is a political analyst on television, radio and in print. He is the host and managing editor of “The Fernando Espuelas Show,” a daily political talk show syndicated nationally by the Univision America Network. Contact him at contact@espuelas.com and via Twitter @EspuelasVox.