As the dust settles from Tuesday’s midterm elections, Latino and immigrant rights groups that worked to register Latinos and newly naturalized citizens to vote this year said they are now looking at how they can influence the elections in 2012. Their central message: Latinos, already the largest and fastest-growing minority group in the country, will continue to gain power as a voting bloc until it becomes impossible for candidates deemed anti-immigrant to win elections.
“We built this infrastructure to mobilize voters to support our friends,” Field Director Rudy Lopez of Campaign for Community Change said on a conference call this afternoon. “For those who choose not to be our friends, go ask Ken Buck and Sharron Angle how they feel about the election results.”
This year’s efforts in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada and Washington included canvassing for votes and massive voter registration drives. The numbers differ on how many Latinos turned out to vote: Exit polls report Latinos made up eight percent of the electorate this year, the same as in 2006, while a poll of Latino voters the night before the election estimated turnout would be up from the previous midterm elections. (For more on discrepancies between the polls, read this Nate Silver post on polling and the Latino vote.)
Latinos may be to thank for some Democrat victories, but at least this year, the pattern of anti-immigrant candidates losing doesn’t hold true in all states — particularly non-Western ones. Hazleton, Pa., Mayor Lou Barletta (R), who presided over a now-overturned law to drive out illegal immigrants, won his race for the House. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) won re-election after signing SB 1070, and Florida’s Rick Scott (R) won the governor’s race while pledging to create copycat legislation in his state.
Still, immigrant rights groups have a point: Demographic evidence does point to Latinos making up an increasing share of the electorate. Given that a majority of Latino voters support comprehensive immigration reform that includes options for some of the illegal immigrants already in the country to stay, enforcement-only candidates are unlikely to receive major Latino support.
It’s a message at least some Republicans have heard. At a panel on immigration policy and conservatism in August, several advocates of lower illegal immigration numbers said the GOP should be careful to avoid alienating voters through rhetoric against immigration. Failed California governor hopeful Meg Whitman (R) attempted to soften her immigration positions to appeal to Latino voters late in her campaign — which arguably could have worked if she hadn’t made hard-line immigration stances a focus of her GOP primary.
Although immigrant rights groups said Latinos would not be won over by anti-illegal immigration rhetoric, few went so far as to say they were mobilizing voters specifically for the Democratic Party. The idea, instead, is to get the Republican Party to recognize its need for Latino supporters. Although the party presented a few major Latino candidates this year, such as New Mexico governor-elect Susana Martinez and Florida senator-elect Marco Rubio, overall support from Latinos for Republican candidates remained low.
“The dilemma we have is also a dilemma Republicans have,” Angelica Salas of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles Action Fund said on a conference call. “If want a chance at the presidency, they can’t ignore us.”
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