Latino Vote Fueling Republican Introspection

As post-election analysis from pundits moves from discussing how the Latinos turned out in favor of Democrats at historic levels in 2008 to analyzing why this shift occurred, many have recognized that immigration was the driving factor behind Latino mobilization and their break towards Democratic candidates.

The Latino vote comprised 9 percent of the electorate nationwide in 2008, a figure that totals over 11 million voters. This turnout represents a jump of over 3 million voters since 2004, when 7.6 million Latinos cast ballots, and is approximately double the Latino turnout of 2000. Ominously for Republicans, the Latino vote broke overwhelmingly Democratic in 2008. After supporting Democratic candidate John Kerry by a 56-44 percent margin against George W. Bush in 2004, Latinos gave Democratic candidate Barack Obama their support at a 67-31 percent margin against John McCain. As the New York Times showed, Latinos' movement towards Democrats was one of the biggest demographic shifts from 2004 to 2008.

The reason behind this shift, according to political pundits and strategists of both parties, was the Republicans' tarnished brand related to the issue of immigration. As Latino polling expert Sergio Bendixen stated, "the debate over immigration started driving Hispanic voters toward the Democratic party, and the economic black hole clinched it."

Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL), stated on NBC's "Meet the Press" that "the very divisive rhetoric of the immigration debate set a very bad tone for our brand as Republicans...there were voices within our party, frankly, which if they continue with that kind of rhetoric, anti-Hispanic rhetoric, that so much of it was heard, we're going to be relegated to minority status."

Washington Post writer Eugene Robinson, in a column highlighting why Republicans must shift directions to stay viable electorally, stated: "here's the truly ominous trend for the Republicans: Hispanic voters nationwide chose Obama over McCain by 67 percent to 31 percent. This is a huge shift from 2004, when George Bush won an estimated 44 percent of the Hispanic vote, and the trend was instrumental in moving states such as Florida, Nevada and Colorado into the Democratic column last Tuesday. How did the Republicans manage this feat? By blocking sensible immigration reform and appealing to the red-meat conservative base with rhetoric that could only be taken as xenophobic. Hispanics constitute the nation's biggest and fastest-growing minority. Apparently they have no place in the "center-right America" of Republican fantasy."

William McKenzie, editorial columnist for the Dallas Morning News, examined the subset of the Latino Evangelical vote and concluded that "it's safe to say enough Latino evangelicals marched away from the GOP to matter in states such as Florida and Colorado. Barack Obama won there after George W. Bush prevailed in 2004." McKenzie quoted prominent Latino Evangelical leader, Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, who said "Immigration, and immigration only, cost Republicans. The Pat Buchanans drove Latino evangelicals away with scary rhetoric about immigration during Congress' recent debates on the subject." McKenzie concluded his column by stating, "the GOP can't keep narrowing itself, forcing out minority voters. The party either expands or shrinks into irrelevancy."

It wasn't just the Latino electorate who voted in favor of common sense and humane immigration policies. Many non-Latino voters refused to support leading anti-immigrant crusaders such as Marilyn Musgrave (CO-4), Thelma Drake (VA-02), Lou Barletta (running for Rep. Kanjorski's seat in PA-11), and Virgil Goode (VA-5) and, in many other close races across the country, supported candidates with practical approaches to immigration reform.

"The Republican Party is at a cross-roads, and for reasons of both good policy and good politics, they need to get on the right side of the immigration issue," said Lynn Tramonte, Policy Director at America's Voice. "Mainstream voters want real results, and they support common sense immigration reform, not demagoguery. Clearly the Republican Party thought they could ride the anti-immigrant train into November and win, but Latino voters and other swing groups have derailed that train," she concluded.

For more election analysis of the Latino vote, see: http://www.immigration08.com/2008/poll/latino_vote

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