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Rubio and the 2012 Latino vote

Politico had a story this weekend looking ahead to how Latinos, the largest and fastest-growing minority group in the country, will swing politically in 2012. Most of the message was familiar to followers of Latino voting patterns and immigration reform: Advocacy groups and pollsters said Latino voters respond negatively to rhetoric perceived as anti-immigrant and disagree with many Republican positions on immigration, but could be dissuaded from voting for Democrats if Obama fails to push for immigration reform in the next two years.

It makes sense for advocates to reiterate that Latino support for Democrats should not be taken for granted: It’s how they can motivate politicians to act on issues important to them. For the most part, it seems unlikely that pro-immigration reform Latino voters would vote for Republicans who oppose paths to citizenship, even if Democrats don’t move on passing reform. But the Politico story mentions one interesting option for the GOP to garner more Latino support: Nominate Marco Rubio for president.

Rubio, a Republican who won Florida’s senate race last week, is Cuban-American and received a large portion of the Latino vote in the state. A poll of Latino registered voters the night before the election found 62 percent planned to vote for Rubio — far higher levels than for Republican candidates in other states.

Politico reports that Republican leaders are considering pushing for Rubio to run for president partially to challenge Obama’s support among Latinos:

His campaign could be their template. The son of Cuban immigrants, Rubio advertised heavily on Spanish-language television, broadcasting his personal story as the centerpiece of an inspirational message to Hispanics.

Similar to former President George W. Bush, Rubio spoke about his opposition to legalization “in a respectful and empathetic tone, focusing on law-and-order aspects and not using people who cross the border illegally as political punching bags,” said Ana Navarro, a Miami-based Republican strategist and adviser to Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Of course, there are a few potential problems with the strategy. Rubio will be only two years into his first Senate term in 2012, meaning he would have served even less time in the chamber than Obama did before he was elected.

Beyond that, it may not make sense to extrapolate much out of the high Latino support for Rubio last week. Florida’s Latino population often displays different trends from Latino voters nationwide because it is largely made up of Cuban-Americans, who can easily gain citizenship if they come to the United States, and Puerto Ricans, who are born citizens. These groups typically place immigration concerns lower and vote for Republicans more often than Latinos in the country overall. Rubio actually lost to Democrat Kendrick Meek among non-Cuban Latino voters in Florida, according to a pre-election poll.

Rubio also saw few challenges during the campaign over his immigration positions, a Democratic pollster told Politico. He may have lost some support among Latinos if his conservative views on immigration had been more widely known. He advocated border security, steered clear of controversy over Arizona’s SB 1070 immigration crackdown and focused most of his Spanish-language messaging on his background as the son of immigrants. In a drawn-out political race, though, the strategy may be more difficult.

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