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Campaigns and the Latino Vote

Politico reported today that 59 percent of Americans — 61 percent of Democrats and independents and 59 percent of Republicans — want Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform. As demand for change increases, statements on immigration by campaigning politicians are also on the upswing — but neither Republicans nor Democrats seem quite sure how they want to play the issue without alienating Latino voters.

Some Latino voters are offended by politicians who push harsh immigration enforcement such as Arizona’s SB 1070 immigration law, the Kansas City Star reported this weekend:

Indeed, the political rush to see who can be tougher on immigration has angered and confused many Latino political leaders, who expected the Obama administration to push for liberalized immigration rules this year.

“In my community, my family, I can tell you that we don’t appreciate being used as a political wedge issue,” said Crispin Rea, a Kansas City school board member. “Are you telling me that if I am riding through Maricopa County with my four cousins, who are proudly serving their nation in the Marines right now, that we will have to prove to some cowboy sheriff how American we are?” [...]

The Latino vote in Nevada could be critical: Hispanics are 26 percent of the state’s population. In Missouri, by contrast, Hispanics are just 3 percent of the population, which may explain why the state’s politicians are often more aggressive on illegal immigration issues.

It may also explain why a mid-July Mason-Dixon poll showed 69 percent of Missourians support an Arizona-like law giving authorities the power to ask for proof of legal immigration status from suspects stopped for another violation. Only 25 percent of those surveyed oppose such a law.

Of course, coming from a state with a large Latino population won’t necessarily stop politicians from using harsh rhetoric about illegal immigration. (Arizona is about 30 percent Latino, and it is home to Governor Jan Brewer as well as Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl.) But some politicians from states with large Latino populations do seem conscious of the need to frame the debate over immigration in less dramatic terms. Marco Rubio, the Republican gubernatorial candidate in Florida, did not come out in full support of Arizona’s SB 1070 law or a proposal for a similar law in Florida — although other Republicans in his state have. In California, Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman attempted to soften her stance after she won the Republican primary, and now runs Spanish-language ads and other outreach to Latinos despite previous “tough on immigration” claims.

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