Sunday, March 3, 2024

The (Former) Sleeping Giant and the GOP

By now, most of us have heard that Latinos voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama

in the recent presidential election. However, that election is over, and so Democrats and Republicans alike must begin thinking and planning for the 2010 midterm elections and for the presidential elections in 2012. For the Democrats, it’s a matter of keeping the American people satisfied these next two years and delivering on their promises. Republicans on the other hand face greater challenges; one of their biggest challenges is how to woo Latino voters.

There are indications that what drove Latinos to support the Democrats is the harsh rhetoric directed at illegal immigrants. This seems like an interesting argument when you consider that most Latinos in the United States are actually citizens or legal residents.

Syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrete explains the reason why he believes Hispanics took offense to the rhetoric, even if they themselves were not illegal immigrants:

“Many people like to tell themselves they’re only opposed to illegal immigration, but when they list the reasons why, it usually boils down to the fear of a changing culture. It’s not just illegal immigrants who are bringing about those changes. It’s also legal residents and U.S.-born Latinos”.

This is an idea that resonates with many Latinos. Reports of hate crimes against Latinos are on the rise; more Latinos are feeling discriminated against by law enforcement. The Republican Party has been linked to this rhetoric and suffered the consequences this election cycle.

Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, a Cuban-American Republican from the Miami area, puts it bluntly, “we have a very, very serious problem.” He is referring to the GOP’s lack of support among Hispanics which could derail the party’s future presidential hopes.

In a September 2007 Washington Post column, former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson noted that, “a substantial shift of Hispanic voters toward the Democrats in five states–Florida, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico-could make the national political map impossible for Republicans.” All five of those states went for George W. Bush in 2004, and all but Arizona went for Barack Obama in 2008.

Democratic pollster Fernand Amandi of Bendixen & Associates, which specializes in Hispanic public opinion, says, “the Hispanic vote played a crucial role, if not the determinant role” in helping Obama carry Florida, Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico.

It seems the future looks grim for Republicans. James Gimpel, an immigration expert at the University of Maryland, predicts that “Arizona and even Texas will soon become blue states thanks to their large and rapidly growing Hispanic populations.”

However, Gimple indicates there is a glimmer of hope for the GOP. Since, “over time, as Latinos become more assimilated and see their incomes rise, they may look more favorably on the Republicans.” But for now, “the constant influx of low-skilled Hispanic immigrants benefits the Democrats,” he says. This means that the GOP is fighting an uphill battle at least for the time being. Congressman Diaz-Balart believes that, “the self-inflicted wounds of the immigration debate have not yet healed and until they do, Republicans are really in bad shape.”

Elections have consequences and,apparently, so does rhetoric. The Republicans had been warned that they were taking a big risk of alienating Latino voters if they continued to oppose immigration reform and vilify immigrants. The man who warned them about this was none other than John McCain. Ironically, he himself was forced to change his tune on immigration in order to win his party’s nomination, something which may have done more harm than good in the end.

Given the failure of their current vision, will Republicans continue on the same path, or will a changing electoral map force them to re-evaluate their positions? The Republican Party Platform released during the convention seems to indicate they plan on, “staying the course.” But that was before their crushing defeat two weeks ago.

The Democrats face a challenge too. Will they solidify Latino support by delivering on the promise of hope and change, or will they be all talk and no action?

SF Gate

My Latino News