As he pushed farther and farther to the right in his effort to fend off the corps of arch-conservative rivals for his party’s presidential nomination, Republican front-runner Mitt Romney probably didn’t think some of what he was doing would have much effect in the larger states that will provide most of the popular and electoral votes this fall – especially California.
But one Romney move in South Carolina’s January primary might have more impact than he ever guessed, if it’s used effectively by Democrats.
For he campaigned side-by-side there with the Kansas secretary of state, not exactly a well-known national figure even if he probably should be.
Kris Kobach, whose endorsement Romney eagerly sought, is the primary author of the draconian anti-illegal immigrant laws adopted first in Arizona and later in southern states like Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. Those laws compel police to check the immigration status of anyone they encounter who offers the slightest indication of being undocumented. Essentially, this compels anyone not obviously Anglo or black to carry identification at all times. Go jogging in the neighborhood? You’d better bring your drivers license. Take a quick stroll to the corner market? You’d better bring more than mere cash.
In Alabama, some police chiefs have lately advised officers not to do much with that state’s law. “That ‘illegal’ you stop,” one chief told his force, “is probably a scientist at NASA Huntsville, an executive of the Mercedes Benz factory outside Tuscaloosa or a medical researcher at the University of Alabama-Birmingham.” All those prestige outfits employ many skilled – and swarthy – immigrants.
The immigration measures may be somewhat popular where they’ve passed, but Romney’s association with their main author will almost certainly be exploited by President Obama’s reelection campaign elsewhere, especially in large states like Illinois, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania and, of course, California – places where the ever-increasing Latino vote can be decisive.
In California, where Romney owns a beachfront home near San Diego, an increase in Hispanic voters converted the state from steadily Republican (GOP in all but one presidential election from 1952 through 1988) to solidly Democratic.
No, Obama won’t advertise much in California. The state is too emphatically blue for him to need many ads here. But his party will be foolish if it doesn’t exploit Romney’s embrace of Kobach in several upcoming competitive campaigns for lesser offices in Congress or the Legislature. The Democratic hope would be for a kind of reverse coattail effect.
Such an effect might significantly reduce the already puny Republican vote among California Latinos. Meg Whitman, the GOP’s last candidate for governor, got just 34 percent of Hispanic votes, where it would have taken at least 40 percent to give her any chance against Democrat Jerry Brown.
Several surveys taken by Miami-based Sergio Bendixen, usually the most accurate pollster of Latino sentiment, show immigration the top issue for most Hispanics in America. Cuban-Americans, whose votes in Florida contributed heavily to Romney’s big win there, are a conservative exception among Latinos, but even most of them want amnesty for many illegal immigrants.
Bendixen’s polls indicate that Latinos who are U.S. citizens believe they are adversely affected when tough anti-illegal immigrant rhetoric or laws become common.
So Romney’s full embrace of Kobach and the stop-on-suspicion approach Kobach grew to favor while an attorney for the strongly anti-illegal immigrant Federation for American Immigration Reform may have helped him ward off his far-right opposition in the early primaries and it may help him secure the nomination, but it would likely make California even more Democratic.
The Romney embrace of Kobach also demonstrates that he may not fully understand modern communications. For within days of campaigning with Kobach in South Carolina, Romney was on the hustings in Florida with Hispanic Republican (read: Cuban-American) state legislators who back varying forms of amnesty.
Three of those he was with support the proposed federal DREAM Act that aims to open university and employment opportunities to children of illegals. Romney pledges to veto that act if it ever passes Congress. Yet, his Spanish-language TV commercials in Florida promised to “open doors” for immigrants of all types.
Does he believe no one elsewhere will note his contradictions or that they won’t become tools for Obama this fall?
With even fellow Republicans accusing him of “pandering,” the main California effect of all this would likely be more distaste for Republicans than Latino voters already manifest. Which could delay for years any significant GOP recovery here.