This past November, many pundits were saying that the GOP could be successful with Latinos because of the success it had in running Latino candidates. In Florida, Cuban-American Marco Rubio was elected, and his name has even been tossed around as a potential VP candidate in 2012. In two key western states, Latino Republicans were elected governors in New Mexico and in Nevada. And a handful of Latinos were elected to Congress. However, many newly empowered GOP congressional representatives have expressed a desire to dig in their heels on the one issue that makes even Latinos within the GOP pause—immigration.
For instance, the next chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, Representative Peter King, wants to expand the program that gives local law enforcement the ability to act as immigration authorities. And the new head of the House Judiciary Committee, Congressman Lamar Smith, who opposes birthright citizenship, wants to expand workplace enforcement and the use of E-verify. Representative Steve King has talked about building a border fence that not even a cockroach would be able to get through.
While those who spout the heated rhetoric have been rising in the House leadership, then-candidate Marco Rubio has tried to moderate his tone a bit by telling Univision back in October that he preferred the “undocumented” to “illegal” when addressing the immigration issue. And of course, many hope that the presence of the newly elected Latino GOPers in the House will follow Rubio’s lead.
A national poll by Latino Decisions showed that 71% of Latinos contacted voted Democrat, while 29% voted Republican. This really isn’t surprising given the rhetoric, but the Latino vote will continue to be up for grabs even with those who compare undocumented immigrants to insects or those who want to continue to beef up border enforcement. Really, the GOP only needs a slice of the Latino electorate to be competitive in many districts, and with the redistricting likely to favor southern states (typically GOP-leaning states), they will be in a position to divide and conquer accordingly.
My thought is that GOP Latino outreach can be moderately successful. They don’t have to capture the “whole enchilada,” but they do need to win over those voters who may find a Marco Rubio or a Bill Flores attractive. And immigration isn’t the biggest issue for many Latinos who were born here or who have been in the country for generations.
However, if GOP leaders like Peter King and Steve King who have the loudest bark on issues like immigration continue to receive the most attention, party-building in the long term may become problematic for the Republican Party.
By guest contributor, Adriana Maestas of www.latinopoliticsblog.com.