Biden arrived in Mexico late Thursday night and is due to meet with President Enrique Peña Nieto, and kick off the U.S.-Mexico High Level Economic Dialogue (HLED). There were plenty of reasons for the vice president to stay home — including the brewing budget battle, and the shootings in Washington’s Navy Yard — in addition to Syria. So it is worth asking why he didn’t.
Biden had both political and economic reasons to visit Mexico. On the political front, he is seeking to strengthen his credibility with the businesses that can benefit from strengthened trade and investment with Mexico. But perhaps Biden’s most important reason is the power of Latino voters. The 2012 election made it clear that any viable Republican presidential candidate would need to win the support of close to 40 percent of Latino voters. President George W. Bush did this in 2004; Mitt Romney got 27 percent last year.
The corollary, of course, is that a Democrat needs around 60 percent of the Latino vote to win the White House. Should Biden decide to run in 2016, his credibility with Latino voters is likely to be strengthened by a focus on relations with Latin America in general and Mexico in particular — given that 63 percent of U.S. Latinos are either originally from Mexico or their families are. This is, in fact, the vice president’s second trip to Mexico, and third trip to Latin America, in a year.
On the economic front, Mexico’s new president has generated significant momentum with a flurry of reforms that promise to boost growth in the years ahead — and create opportunities for U.S. companies operating in the United States and Mexico. Even before taking office, President-elect Peña Nieto partnered with the party he ousted, the PAN, to pass a major labor law reform. This added flexibility to the labor market, making it easier for companies to hire and fire. Its provisions are also expected to improve productivity and worker protections.