And they're off! The Democratic race for Latino endorsements has begun. On Thursday, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro announced his support for Hillary Clinton. A week earlier, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) threw his support behind Bernie Sanders, giving the Vermont senator his first congressional endorsement. Castro is considered to be a potential vice-presidential pick for Clinton, while Grijalva is a one of Sanders's fellow members of the Progressive Caucus. Yet for the rest of us without such personal ties to the candidates, there are sound reasons to take a look at former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley.
O'Malley has made reaching out to Latinos a cornerstone of his campaign. He holds more progressive immigration positions than either Clinton or Sanders. And unlike his two better-known rivals for the Democratic nomination, O'Malley has a proven track record of delivering on his promises to Latino voters.
Despite hailing from a state where only 8 percent of the population is Latino, O'Malley has shown keen interest in the Hispanic electorate. During the first week of his campaign, he appeared on Univision and gave interviews on his immigration policy. He was the first Democratic candidate to make a stop in Puerto Rico. He has denounced the anti-immigrant rhetoric of Republican candidate Donald Trump. He has hired Latinos for key roles in his campaign, spoken at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and National Council of La Raza conference, and even managed an appearance at an Iowa Latino festival.
O'Malley has a compassionate and progressive immigration policy plan. He has pledged that he would use executive action on day one of his presidency to expand the number of undocumented people protected from deportation. He wants to expand deferred action to all those undocumented residents who would've been eligible for a path to citizenship under the failed Gang of Eight immigration bill. He favors ending the "bed mandate" for immigration detention, and wants to make certain immigrants eligible for coverage under the Affordable Care Act. No wonder that in July, Jorge Ramos tweeted that O'Malley had released "the most inclusive immigration plan so far," or that the president of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce recently said that he had the best presidential immigration plan. O'Malley is not afraid to go big on an issue of importance to Latinos.
Nor has he shied from taking politically risky positions. During the child migrant crisis at the border last year, when Clinton said the kids "should be sent back," O'Malley advocated against sending them "back to certain death." His view of the crisis was shaped, he said, by the struggles of his own immigrant ancestors.
What's more, O'Malley can point to actual accomplishments as proof of his commitment to Latinos. As governor of Maryland, he signed the state's version of the Dream Act, which allowed undocumented young people to get in-state college tuition rates. He signed a measure allowing certain undocumented residents to obtain driver's licenses. He increased government contracts with Latino businesses by 154 percent. As O'Malley told The Washington Post, "I believe my record speaks to my heart."
But right now, O'Malley's problem is that he is little-known to potential Latino voters. A summer poll by Univision reported that 74 percent of Latinos do not know or have no opinion of O'Malley. Asked whom they would support if their state primary were held today, only 1 percent of Hispanics picked O'Malley. That's a shame, because he is in sync with Latino voters on a host of other issues, from supporting gun control to raising the minimum wage. He clearly cares about Latinos, and has the resume and vision to back it up. Now more than ever, Latinos — and all Americans — must familiarize themselves with all of the candidates, and not let our votes be dictated by media coverage.
O'Malley is treats Latinos with respect, so we should be willing to consider his candidacy. He deserves a serious look from Hispanic voters.
Reyes is an attorney and columnist in New York City. He is also an NBCNews.com contributor.