Can Latino Republican Candidates Win Over Latino Voters?
Newsweek’s Arian Campo-Flores has an interesting piece today about how political parties and observers should interpret the success of Latino Republican candidates who support harsh anti-illegal immigration policies. Florida Senate candidate Marco Rubio, New Mexico gubernatorial candidate Susana Martinez and Nevada gubernatorial candidate Brian Sandoval are expected to win their elections in November, in part thanks to support from Latino voters. This would run counter to political wisdom and polling that suggests Latino voters prefer candidates — usually Democrats — who support immigration reform, and would likely be interpreted as proof that Latino candidates can win over Latino voters who might not otherwise vote for Republicans.
But not so fast, Campo-Flores argues:
If these emerging conservatives win, and capture sizable chunks of the Hispanic vote doing so, how will the major national Latino organizations, which are dominated by Democrats, react? As [Florida International University Professor Dario] Moreno summarizes the dilemma, “Do you denounce them as traitors, or try to embrace a broader Hispanic agenda?”
If that agenda involves policies that Latinos largely believe dehumanize immigrants, it may be a tough sell—which goes to the heart of the Republican predicament. After several election cycles in which the party has alienated the nation’s fastest-growing demographic, it essentially has two choices, says Sanchez: “either change your policy stances, or try to find candidates like” Rubio, Martinez, or Sandoval, who may be able to pick up Hispanic support. For now, the GOP has opted for the latter, a move that has generated no shortage of skepticism. “It’s very difficult to put the onus on a couple of these candidates after all the years of demonizing [blacks and Latinos],” says [University of Florida Professor Daniel] Smith. “These actions speak louder than a few token minorities at the top of the ticket.” The candidates would surely bristle at being characterized that way. Perhaps they can exact their revenge by proving him wrong.
Latinos make up sizable portions of the voting population in each of the three states, according to data released today by Pew Hispanic Center: Latinos account for 38 percent of the electorate in New Mexico, 15 percent in Florida and 14 percent in Nevada.
But Campo-Flores rightly notes each of the three states’ Latino populations has unique demographic qualities that make it atypical — if there can be considered a typical Latino population or Latino voter at all. In Florida, a large segment of Latino voters are from Cuba and Puerto Rico, meaning they never underwent a difficult immigration process to receive legal status in the United States. (Cubans are automatically given citizenship when they get to the States, while Puerto Ricans are American citizens.) New Mexico’s Latino population is largely American-born, meaning struggles of illegal immigrants are less familiar. In Nevada, while many Latinos are recent immigrants, most are not politically active.
If Rubio, Martinez and Sandoval win among Latino voters in their states, then, it does not necessarily mean they would win in others. It’s an obvious point — no two elections are exactly the same, of course — but one that is worth repeating as observers prepare to speculate on what the election means for the future of each party. While the election results may not indicate that Latinos are lifelong Democrats, victories by three Latino Republican candidates will not mean they are turning toward the GOP either.