As California begins to see the effects of new political districts and new candidate selection rules at many political levels, the state’s Republican Party has one big pipe dream: Cut down the gigantic majorities every Democrat of the last 30 years has won among Latinos except when running against Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Schwarzenegger, however, was a special case, winning office in a recall election almost purely on the strength of his movie-driven celebrity and unique muscleman image.
There is no similar savior in sight for the GOP, so its real need is to look hard at what it does and how that offends Latinos, the fastest growing bloc of voters both in California and nationally. After decades of dormancy as a political force, Latinos now are the second largest ethnic voting bloc in this state and almost everywhere else, trailing only whites of European descent.
Just how badly Latinos feel about Republicans can be seen in the results of the last statewide election, as analyzed by the Pew Research Center. In 2010, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer carried 66 percent of the Latino vote to just 31 percent for her Republican opponent Carly Fiorina. If Fiorina had won a mere 40 percent of Latino votes, she’d be a senator today.
The numbers were very similar in the run for governor, where Jerry Brown won the Latino balloting by a 63-34 percent tally over Republican Meg Whitman.
Republicans are realistic enough to know they’ll have to turn around quite a few Latino voters if they’re to make a respectable showing this year. They vowed at their state party convention last fall to conduct a serious outreach campaign to Hispanics. But that was likely undercut by President Obama’s sudden decision to allow legal status for illegal immigrants brought here as children who have not committed crimes and have become educated or served in the military.
The GOP promise was laudable as far as it went, but merely holding seminars with “tame” Spanish-surnamed Republicans won’t do it. Nor will happy talk, when the other party is taking significant action.
So if they want to become a significant force in California for the first time in almost 20 years, Republicans will have to make some changes. One poll taken by the pro-immigration America’s Voice organization found that nationally, more than 80 percent of likely Latino voters consider immigration today’s most important issue and favor actions like Obama’s.
In short, until the GOP comes around to that position – which presidential candidate Mitt Romney has not – and until it changes its overall perspective on illegal immigration, the party will never be a major force among Latinos and therefore will remain a minority in California.
But most Republicans can’t seem to accept that they must change. As they debated around the nation through last fall and this spring, the party’s corps of presidential hopefuls seemed to vie for the distinction of being toughest on illegals.
It’s pretty much necessary to take such stances in order to win Republican primary elections, dominated as they usually are by the hard right. But wait a minute: California doesn’t do Republican primaries any more. No Democratic ones, either. They’ve been subsumed by the “top two” system of open primaries, where the two leading vote-getters in the primary face off in November general elections, regardless of party.
In fact, a couple of Republicans with moderate stances on immigration now find themselves in runoffs against Democrats, and their positions give them a decent chance to attract the Latino votes they’ll need to win. One is former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, running for Congress on the Central Coast against Democrat Lois Capps, who hasn’t been seriously challenged in many years.
But so far, only a few Republicans are taking advantage of the new system. So the standard GOP rhetoric continues, labeling all illegal immigrants “criminals” because they’re willing to cross borders to find work at decent wages. The America’s Voice survey concluded that when Republicans insist on applying that tag, even Latinos who are citizens fejel they too are being slurred. The survey found they feel the same way when GOP politicians highlight crimes committed by illegals. Yes, some illegals are violent criminals, but federal statistics indicate that Hispanic immigrants in general have a lower violent crime rate than native-born citizens.
The bottom line: It will take a major shift on immigration – and not just a couple of maverick candidates – for the GOP to reverse the way Latinos feel about them, no matter how much the party talks about “reaching out” to Latinos. Keep resisting reality, and the party will grow more and more irrelevant in this state.