Republicans both nationally and in California have finally arrived at the realization they will need Latino votes to win future elections and that they must somehow make themselves more attractive to the nation’s fastest-growing voter bloc.
That’s why the national party hired Bettina Inclan as head of outreach in that direction for its presidential campaign. Inclan, a former Arnold Schwarzenegger operative, has made her living for years trying to get Latinos to vote GOP, with limited success.
She will need a lot of luck this year, and it appeared during her first weeks on the job she was getting some. That was when President Obama without much prompting announced his support for same-sex marriage. His announcement came the same week a same-sex-marriage measure went down to resounding defeat in North Carolina, a state Obama carried four years ago. If that state goes for Obama again this fall, Republican Mitt Romney might as well forget about his run.
The immediate thinking was that Obama’s stance would drive away Hispanic voters. But polls taken one week and two weeks later quickly showed that was an illusion: Immigration reform still remains a far more important issue, especially to younger Hispanics who tend to voice support for gay marriage in polls – unlike their elders.
Which took Inclan and the rest of her party back to Square 1: The best Republicans have done among Hispanics in the last 20 years was about a 40 percent showing by ex-President George W. Bush in 2004, when he ran for reelection after years of pushing a Congress controlled by his own party for immigration changes including amnesty for some illegal immigrants who have been in America for many years without committing crimes.
By contrast, John McCain managed barely above 30 percent of the Latino vote four years ago. That’s a level Romney briefly pulled up to just after his party’s convention, which showcased several conservative Latinos.
But the GOP candidate soon fell back a bit. One reason: he spent much of the spring urging illegals to “self-deport” and campaigning with Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state who helped author the draconian Arizona and Alabama stop-on-suspicion laws designed to make police demand proof of legal status from anyone who even looks like he or she might be in this country illegally.
Of course, self-deportation is already occurring, a result of the lingering lousy economy and the federal E-Verify system employers increasingly use to check the status of potential new hires. In late spring, the nation’s illegal immigrant populace was down about 1 million from its 2010 level and the Border Patrol was considering changing its emphasis to concentrate more on repeat border crossers – those who are deported again and again, continually returning to this country.
Obama wouldn’t win many Hispanic votes with that change, but at least he doesn’t have to worry about distancing himself from Kobach, as Romney quickly did after clinching his party’s nomination.
And Obama, unlike Romney, at least offers Latinos hope for what they consider positive change when he says he’ll push hard for immigration reform if reelected.
So Inclan’s task is tough, no matter what stance Obama has taken on gay marriage – not usually a federal issue anyway.
For one thing, she’s had to downplay at every opportunity the ferociously anti-illegal immigrant stances Romney adopted in more than a dozen primary election season debates. At the time, he was trying to set his stance as even more xenophobic on the issue than far-right candidates like Rick Santorum, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich.
It was inevitable he would try to “etch-a-sketch” away those statements and promises once he clinched the nomination, as his campaign manager put it. But videos remain, easily visible on YouTube and sure to be part of Obama’s Spanish-language campaign commercials this fall.
Now it’s clear Obama’s gay-marriage stance won’t matter to very many Hispanic voters. He took his position early enough so it won’t have shock value this fall and the Gallup Poll subsequently reported that 53 percent of Latinos support same-sex unions, about the same as in the general populace.
Support is even stronger among younger Hispanics – and at least in California, they are the fastest-growing segment among Latino registered voters, up 15 percent in the past five years.
Then Romney named Pete Wilson to co-chair his California campaign. No personnel move could have been more alienating to Latinos of all ages. Many of them remember vividly Wilson’s support for the harsh provisions of the 1994 Proposition 187.
Put it all together and it becomes clear that neither hiring a new, attractive Latino voter liason nor Obama’s stance on gay marriage will help Romney much.
If he’s going to win this fall, he will have to do it in states with relatively few Hispanic voters, essentially conceding places like California, New York and Illinois, states that have been consistently Democratic for the last two decades in large part because of those Hispanic voters.