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GOP’s Top Latino Voting Pundit, Rep. Lamar Smith, Strikes (Out) Again

by Lynn Tramonte on 04/01/2011 at 10:51am

Lamar SmithGOP Congressman Lamar Smith (TX) has once again asserted himself as his party’s leading strategist on the Latino vote. He’s taking issue with Chris Cillizza’s recent analysis of census numbers, “The Republican’s Hispanic Problem.”  We agree with Cillizza’s take. However, Smith is desperately trying to get his fellow Republicans to deny the facts and trends on Latino voters. Given his goal of forcing all 11 million undocumented immigrant out of the country (couched as “attrition through enforcement”), and the impact this policy has had on sending Latino voters into the arms of the Democratic Party, the Republican Party should heed his punditry with caution.

Mr. Smith continues to claim his party garnered 38% of the Latino vote in the 2010 elections – but he limits his analysis to exit polling results for House Republican races. It’s established that exit polls are fine for determining outcomes, but notoriously inaccurate when it comes to capturing the voting behavior of Latino voters.   One of the states Smith cites is Nevada. Let’s take a look at the numbers from Nevada. Exit polls appeared to show that the notoriously anti-immigrant Sharron Angle got 30% of the Latino vote in 2010. As a comparison, exit polls showed John McCain, who had a record of supporting reform, only garnered got 22% of the Latino vote in Nevada. It’s strains credulity to think Angle did better than McCain.  

There are more reliable numbers from Latino Decisions, a group that specializes in reaching Latino voters, which undermine Smith’s assertions. Despite his claims about Nevada, Latinos overwhelmingly voted against anti-immigration candidates in the top-tiered races, including voting 90-8% in favor of Harry Reid over Sharron Angle in NV Senate, and 84-15% for Rory Reid over Brian Sandoval in NV Governor.  

Need more? Latino Decisions found that the Latinos broke 86-13% for Jerry Brown over Meg Whitman in CA Governor; 86-14% for Barbara Boxer over Carly Fiorina in CA Senate; and 81-19% for Michael Bennet over Ken Buck in CO Senate.   

Rep. Smith frequently cites the gubernatorial victories of Susana Martinez (NM) and Brian Sandoval (NV), both Latino, as examples that Republicans don’t have to change their hard line position on immigration in order to do well with Latinos. But the facts tell a different story, as we’ll further explain in a report we’re releasing on Monday, April 4th, entitled “Latino Candidates Not Enough to Win Latino Vote Voters Want Change in Immigration Policy, Not Last Names.” Neither Martinez nor Sandoval even came close to winning a majority of the Latino vote.  In fact, as noted above, Sandoval, only got 15% of the Latino vote in Nevada — and did worse among Latinos than his Republican predecessor in 2006.  In New Mexico, Gov. Susana Martinez lost the Latino Vote by a margin of 38% to 61% against Diane Denish. According to polling by Latino Decisions, voters were turned off by their hard-line positions on immigration issues.  These two races are clear examples of the fact that Latino voters care far more about a candidate’s position on the issues than their ethnic heritage. 

So, again, if Republicans want to rely on Smith, they do so at their own peril. Latino Decisions found that Latinos averaged only 24% support for Republicans in 2010 in generic two-party voting for the House of Representatives.  That’s a full 14% drop from what Smith claims.  

Smith also claims that many “Hispanic voters support efforts to enforce our immigration laws.” Of course they do, but they also strongly support comprehensive immigration reform and think mass deportation is an ugly fantasy.  Smith, along with his sidekicks, Chairman of the Immigration Subcommittee, Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-CA), and Subcommittee Vice-Chairman, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) are pushing a mass deportation strategy – and the image of the Republican Party is growing worse and worse the more they promise to deport Latinos’ family members, neighbors, coworkers, and friends. Polling shows that only 19% of Latinos would ever vote for a candidate who opposes immigration reform. That’s the highest any Republican can ever hope to garner if it becomes known at the Party of Mass Deportation.  

We agree with Smith that Latino voters care about the jobs and the economy. But immigration is a core value for many. According to the Latino Decision polling, immigration was the second most important issue for Latinos in their decision to vote, after jobs and the economy, with 60% of Latino voters saying it was either “the most important” or “one of the most important” factors in their voting decision.  

We’ll have more to say about Republicans and Latino voters next week. In the meantime, if Republicans want to let Smith be their chief strategist on the Latino vote, they better check his numbers.  If Republicans ever want to win support from Latino voters, they better put a stop to Smith’s unrelenting attacks on Latino families.

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