Latinos and the Election: Throwing Votes Away
“LATINOS are Republicans,” Ronald Reagan is supposed to have said. “They just don’t know it yet.” The mass epiphany foretold by Reagan has been realised in at least one case: that of Susana Martinez, the Latina governor of New Mexico. At the Republican convention in August, Ms Martinez told an adoring crowd the tale of how she and her husband, lifelong Democrats, were persuaded to defect after a lunchtime discussion “about many issues” with two local Republicans.
Ms Martinez won power in 2010, a year that also brought a Latino Republican governor to power in Nevada, seven Latino Republicans to the House of Representatives and Marco Rubio, the closest the Republicans have to a Latino superstar, to the Senate. Two years after 67% of Latinos voted for Barack Obama, was this the beginning of a Latino Republican renaissance?
If so, it has not lasted long. The most recent survey by Latino Decisions, a polling group, found 72% of Latino voters plumping for Mr Obama, next to a pitiful 20% for Mitt Romney (the fieldwork was conducted largely before Mr Romney’s post-debate bump). In August a Romney adviser said the goal was to win 38% Latino support, but the campaign now appears to be rowing back from that unattainable target.
In truth, the Latino Republican victories of 2010 were the result of a national rightward swing and the circumstances of individual states. Any reckoning of that year must also take note of the Republicans’ failure to pick up Senate seats in Colorado and Nevada after the party nominated extreme candidates who mobilised Latinos in opposition. Indeed, the anti-immigration arms race conducted by the party’s presidential candidates, very much including Mr Romney, in this year’s primaries seems the best explanation for its difficulties in winning Latino support.
Nonsense, say Republican officials. Jobs and the economy are the main concern for Latino voters, as for everyone else. This is correct, and hardly surprising. Latinos have been hit hard by America’s slump: 9.9% are unemployed, next to a national figure of 7.8%, and the housing crash was worst in states, including California, Florida and Nevada, in which large numbers of Latinos live. Mr Romney’s campaign has placed facts like these at the heart of its appeal to Latino voters.