Can Immigrant Voters Save Clinton?
The next round of the hard-fought Democratic presidential nomination race between Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is Mar. 4. In two big states, Texas and Ohio, the candidates will each seek support from immigrant and Latino voters.
Clinton and Obama hold similar positions on immigration, but in earlier primaries Clinton did better among Latinos. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) came out for Obama and campaigned for him before the Feb. 5 Super Tuesday primaries. But even the support of this surviving brother of Robert F. Kennedy, a beloved figure among Latinos, did not sway voters.
It should be no surprise that immigration is important in Texas, which shares a long border with Mexico. After all, "Tex-Mex" is a recognized flavor in the United States.
But Ohio, too, is a major destination for immigrants. These immigrants have historically been European, but in the last two decades a growing number were from Mexico — both legal and illegal. And the backlash against Latino immigrants is evident there as in other regions.
The Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, a group generally opposed to immigration, has reported, "approximately 72 percent of the total population increase between 2000 and 2006 in Ohio was directly attributable to immigrants." FAIR cites the Pew Hispanic Center, saying that in 2005 there were an estimated 75,000 to 150,000 illegal immigrants in the state. From 2000 to 2006, according to FAIR, "Ohio gained over 76,000 immigrants, bringing the total number of foreign-born residents in the state to over 416,000."
Latino immigrants, in any case, are still not the overwhelming minority in Ohio that they are in states like California. Though the foreign language most spoken in Ohio homes in 2000 was Spanish (213,145), several other languages — from Europe and the Middle East — were evident. The second most-spoken foreign language that year was German (72,570). What is more, in rankings of the most change in national sources of foreign-born residents, in neither 1980 nor 1990 did any Latin American country make the top 10.
Mexico made the list in 2000, when that country accounted for two-thirds of the Latino immigrants. But it was still ranked in fourth place behind India, China and the formerly top-ranked Germany, respectively ranked first, second and third. Behind Mexico came not the Dominican Republic, but the former Soviet Union, Canada, Britain, Italy, South Korea, and the Philippines.
Right now, the economy is a bigger worry than immigration for most voters — especially in Ohio and other former manufacturing centers of the Midwest. As reported on NPR, "Ohio’s sluggish economy is the key issue in the upcoming primary; unemployment in the Buckeye State is greater than in any state in the region other than Michigan."
With economic issues so important in Ohio, and union labor a big factor, Clinton is expected to run a strong race there, especially among blue-collar voters. She has done well with this demographic. Even though the powerful SEIU, the Service Employees International Union, has come out in support of Obama, Clinton’s working-class base still looks solid.
But it is Clinton’s support from Latino voters that may be slipping. The latest Gallup Poll on the issue found that, at the national level, Latino support for the Democratic candidates is now evenly divided. In a poll Feb. 5-9, Clinton was at 63 percent, with Obama at 32 percent. But by Feb 13-17, these numbers had changed dramatically, with Obama at 50 percent and Clinton at 46 percent.
Clinton needs Latino votes in both Texas and Ohio, but, more realistically, in Texas. A look at the numbers shows why, in Ohio, Clinton is more likely to focus on class and gender than on ethnicity and immigration status.
The National Center on Migration Policy (NCMP) has released an analysis of voting patterns in Texas
and (pdf) Ohio of native and foreign-born citizens, as well as by ethnicity (Black, Asian, Hispanic, White non-Hispanic). The figures show that the Latino vote in Ohio is not likely to make or break a candidacy.
In Ohio, Latinos and immigrants do not represent the kind of large-scale backing that Clinton now needs. But in Texas, she might still find that support from Latinos, contrary to the national trend identified by Gallup.
If Latinos continue to shift to Obama, Clinton will need support from labor voters to win the Mar. 4 primaries. Unfortunately for her, labor is not the key bloc in Texas.