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Latino Voting Trends Look Like Virtuous Circle for Democrats

The Latino vote increased sharply for Democrats, particularly in the West, helping to determine key Senate races in Colorado, Nevada and California. The Pew Hispanic Center reports that Democrats picked up the Latino vote by 64-34, and remember that includes Cubans in Florida voting for a Latino Republican for US Senate. Even in states like Nevada, with a Latino Republican victorious as Governor, Latinos swung Democratic.

The candidacies of Republicans (Marco) Rubio and (Brian) Sandoval drew sharply different levels of support from Latino voters. In Florida, Rubio captured 55% of the Latino vote in his race for the Senate–identical to the share of the white vote he won. In Nevada, however, Sandoval won just a third (33%) of the Latino vote in his race for governor; he did much better among whites, winning 62% of the vote according to the state exit poll. No exit polls were done in New Mexico, so it is not possible to analyze the voting patterns among Latinos and other groups in (Susanna) Martinez’s victorious gubernatorial campaign.

Despite a Republican year, these numbers are broadly similar and only slightly reduced from the spread of the Latino vote in the far more Democratic years of 2006 and 2008. In Nevada and Colorado in particular, Latinos turned out at the same high numbers as in the Obama year of 2008. Harry Reid took Latinos in Nevada 68-30.

This is going to improve in successive years, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Democrats took 70% of the vote in 2012. Because Republicans will use an enforcement-only approach and engage in a host of other immigrant-bashing policies, pushing Latinos further and further away from them. Over the long term, if Republicans continue down this path, they’ll take states like Nevada and Colorado and New Mexico, and possibly Arizona and Texas, off the table.

In short, Republicans who won on Tuesday hold radically different views on tackling illegal immigration from the president and Senate Democrats. Prospects are bleak for anyone who hopes to see meaningful change on immigration policy: A Democratic Senate will have trouble getting immigrant-friendly measures past the House, while the House will have trouble getting enforcement-only measures past the Senate — or the president’s desk. The result will likely be more of the same on immigration policy.

There are a few areas where Republicans have brought forth proposals to reform the immigration system. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who is expected to take over as chairman of the House’s immigration subcommittee, plans use his leadership position to call in Obama administration officials and question them on immigration enforcement, claiming “they’re not enforcing the laws.”

It’s a common argument from Republicans, who have repeatedly accused the Obama administration of taking a lax approach. After reports that immigration courts were throwing out deportation cases for illegal immigrants who were deemed non-dangerous or had pending citizenship applications, the seven current Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano demanding to know how much it would cost to find and deport every illegal immigrant in the country.

This is the opposite of what the Obama Administration has been doing, actually, as enforcement has increased under his tenure. But Republicans have surged so far to the right, that it’s doubtful they can recapture Latinos for a generation. However, the difference in the voting dynamic for Rubio is a strong indicator of why establishment Republicans think he has a national profile in his future. Expect him to at least draw the keynote address at the 2012 RNC, if not the VP slot.

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David Dayen

David Dayen