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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Santorum’s Gamble Reveals Huge Blind Spot

Republican myopia regarding Latino voters is turning out to be a huge blessing bestowed on Democrats, as some recent statistics indicate:

Most repeated word in the GOP debate last night: “border” (followed by “illegal” and “fence”)
Percentage increase in the Phoenix Latino turnount from 2010 to 2011: 480%
Percentage of likely Republican primary voters in Arizona who “said they’d be more inclined to vote for a presidential candidate who backs SB 1070, according to the NBC News/Marist Poll”: 67+%
Percentage of Latino respondents saying the GOP ‘did not care about their support or was hostile to their commmunity’ in a recent Latino Decisions poll conducted for Univision: 72%
Number of GOP presidential candidates who have “voiced support for a broad amnesty that would allow younger illegal immigrants to become permanent legal residents”: Zero
Number of Times Rick Santorum said “Jobs” in the debate last night: Zero

It’s as if Santorum forgot he was really playing to a national audience. Granted, “Arizona is the epicenter of the national immigration debate,” as Michael Sherer notes in Time Swampland. Yet, even though the GOP still has a better shot than Dems of winning Arizona’s electoral votes, all of the candidates should get it by now that in every debate they are on a national stage, talking to Hispanics nationwide. Of course, their gamble is that immigrant-bashing will give them more value added in votes from whites worried about immigration than they will lose from Latino voters.
To some extent Santorum’s recent emphasis on social issues is understandable. Western Michigan is laden with conservative denominations and sects, and Santorum probably feels that his one shot at a bite of Hispanic votes in Arizona is to play his Catholic traditionalist card, hot and heavy. But the GOP has made a hideous mess of their cred among Latino voters, and it’s hard to see how they won’t pay a dear price for it in November.
“Conservatives have not realized how their tone and rhetoric has turned people off,” says Jennifer Korn, who led George W. Bush’s Latino outreach effort in 2004,” notes Scherer. “Latinos seem likely to account for a bigger share of the general electorate in battleground states like Colorado and Nevada than they did four years ago,” adds Tom Curry at msnbc.com.
But what’s good for the GOP in Arizona, may be disastrous nationwide. As Curry explains:

In the 2008 election, Arizona went for its own senator, McCain. This year, its 11 electoral votes are an alluring target for Obama’s strategists. But the Democrats’ “chances of it flipping are pretty minimal” this year due to the conservatism of white voters there, said Ruy Teixeira, a political demographer and senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a Democratic-allied think tank.
In the NBC News/Marist Poll of Arizona voters, in a hypothetical contest between Obama and Mitt Romney, 45 percent said they’d support Romney and 40 percent said they’d back Obama.
But overall in the general election, “The Latino vote is going to be absolutely crucial in 2012,” Teixeira said at a recent conference on Latino voters at American University in Washington.
In Nevada, for example, Teixeira projects a four percentage-point increase in the minority share of the vote and a five-point decline in white working-class voters’ share of the vote…If Obama can win 80 percent of minority voters nationally, “he could get shellacked” among white voters “as badly as Democratic congressional candidates were in 2010, when they lost the white working class by 30 points” and yet “he could almost survive that level of shellacking,” Teixeira argued.

Looking ahead to Georgia, the biggest state in the March 6 Super Tuesday primaries, Latinos are 8.8 percent of the state population, but only 22 percent of them are registered to vote, according to recent statistics. In addition, it is believed that many Latino migrant workers have left Georgia, angry about Republican-driven state ‘reforms,’ which encourage harassment of Hispanics.
However, the Latino vote can be influential, even in the northeast, as Curry explains:

Even in Pennsylvania, where Latinos were only four percent of the 2008 electorate, they may end up being crucial, Teixeira said…He predicted that Obama will lose among Pennsylvania’s white working-class voters, but “all he has to do is not get totally wiped out. He can afford a 15-point loss, he can afford a 20-point loss, what he doesn’t want is 30-point loss” among white working-class voters…If he can get the Latino vote mobilized and motivated to vote for him at a high level, I think it very much reinforces his chances of taking the state,” he said.

Meanwhile Latinos are experiencing a jobless rate 2 percent higher than the national average. And polls indicate that jobs and the economy are still the primary concerns of Hispanic voters. And Santorum doesn’t even mention the word “jobs” in last night’s debate?
To be fair, Santorum’s GOP rivals are no more appealing to Hispanic voters, with their equally-dismal records on issues of concern to Latinos. But Santorum is supposed to be the Republican candidate with the most cred on job-creation. That candidate was nowhere in sight last night.

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