Over the past week we have again seen a flurry of Republican kingmakers and pundits offering advice on how Republicans can “woo the Latino vote.” Such commentaries seem to appear on a regular cycle every three or four months. What we seldom see is Democrats worrying about the Latino vote. But they should.
What is missing from the speculation on the so-called Latino vote is any historical perspective or understanding of the trends of the last 40 years. Everybody knows that Obama got 67 percent of the Latino vote in 2008, but who remembers that Clinton got 72 percent of that vote in 1996? Or that Republican congressional candidates have never received more than 35 percent of the Latino vote nationally yet somehow manage to win elections.
Considering that since the year 2000, newly naturalized Mexican nationals who register to vote have been registering 75 percent Democrat, and that over 60 percent of new citizens are from Mexico, it should not be surprising that Democratic candidates get 65-plus percentage of their vote.
What this means for the 2012 presidential race is that if Obama’s Latino support drops from 67 percent to 64 percent, he has probably lost the election. And that’s not the worst of it. Considering that Obama has lost support among other key groups, in reality he must expand his Latino support to 70 percent or more to have any hope of winning the election.
Thus, it is a mistake for Republican strategists to think they must “win” or “capture” a majority of Latino voters to win the election. Republicans need not even “recapture” the 40 percent Bush won in 2004. (It was 40 percent not 44, as reported in some exit polls.) The Republican candidate need only hold onto the 32 percent they had in 2008 while also gaining ground in some other important segments.
Those numbers ought to keep the Obama strategists awake at night because Obama is losing support among Latinos at about the same pace and for the many of the same reasons he is losing support among all segments of the public.
Obama’s strategy over the past six months or so has been to “re-energize” the Latino vote by appeals on the immigration issue. All the evidence suggests those appeals have fallen flat. Pollsters and pundits have been slow to see a “new reality” that is reshaping not only the immigration debate but the 2012 political landscape as well: Latino voters are not single-issue voters and the Latino vote is not for sale to the highest bidder offering amnesty for illegal aliens.
Latino-Hispanic voters, whether in Florida, North Carolina, Colorado or elsewhere, care about the same issues other Americans care about. The question for Republican strategists is: What strategy should Republicans pursue in order to outflank Obama and increase the level of Latino support in 2012?
Two of the Republican presidential candidates, Romney and Santorum, appear to understand this new reality and have made campaign statements that put the immigration issue in its proper context. It’s one issue, not the only issue, and not even the most important issue for most Latino voters. Only Gingrich persists in pandering to Latino groups with his obsessive and misplaced concern about Latino grandmothers who have been here 25 years or longer.
If truth be told, and if the polls are to be believed, few Latino voters are worried about their grandmothers being rounded up and deported back to Mexico, Peru or Brazil. They are far more worried about their college-educated children finding jobs, how their small business will provide health care for their employees under Obamacare, and how anyone will be able to afford college if tuition rates keep growing at 8 percent annually.
Yes, we know that Obama will play the race card and will demagogue the immigration issue as much as he can. His problem is that it is not working given his record of failure on matters of deeper concern to Hispanic voters.
The message of the amnesty lobby is not selling well in Latino communities. Latinos as a group do not worry that Obama has failed them on immigration. They worry that he has failed them on the economy, on education, on small business taxes and regulations, on health care and, yes, on foreign policy, too. Memo to the White House: Hugo Chavez may be Obama’s pal, but he is not a hero to Latino voters.
Republicans have a tremendous opportunity in 2012 if they do not squander it. What Latino voters want and need is not pandering on one issue but honest answers on a host of problems facing all Americans in the real world.