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Colorado: While Immigration Won't Drive GOP Caucus, Issue Could Prove Decisive in November 2012

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colorado sealWith the Nevada caucus behind them, the GOP presidential candidates now turn to Colorado, where they will compete in the sixth nominating contest so far this year.  Despite the fact that immigration is not a big issue for most Republican caucus-goers, as in years past, the issue will have clear salience in November as Latino voters size up the candidates and their positions on the issues that matter.

Latino voters’ share of the electorate is expected to grow yet again in the 2012 election.  If the past two cycles and results of the 2010 Census are any guide, Colorado’s Latino voters and the issue of immigration reform will have a big impact on the 2012 contests—not only in the Presidential race, but key House races as well. 

Here are some of the relevant facts and figures to keep in mind about Colorado, as well as analysis about recent elections and what their results mean for 2012.

Latino voters are expanding their political clout in Colorado, and immigration is a defining issue for these voters:

  • Colorado’s Latino population grew by 41.2% from 2000 to 2010 – 42% of all population growth in Colorado during the decade.
  • While “jobs and the economy” are the top issues for all voters, including Latinos, immigration is a key, motivating issue for Colorado Latinos.  In Latino Decisions’ election eve polling in 2010, 29% of Latino voters in Colorado said that immigration was the most important issue in determining their vote and another 28% said that it was “one of the most important” issues.  Thirty-seven percent said immigration was the most important issue facing the Latino community that politicians should address. 

2008: Obama flips Colorado and other states from red to blue, with help of Latino voters

  • President Obama got 54% of the vote in 2008 in Colorado, which was one of the four states in Obama’s column that George Bush won in 2004.  In each of those four states, which also includes Nevada, New Mexico and Florida, the Latino vote was a decisive factor in Obama’s win
  • Latino voters made up over 10% of the Colorado electorate in 2008 and Latino voter turnout there jumped over 23% between 2000 and 2008.  In 2008, 61% of Colorado Latinos voted for Barack Obama, helping him win a state that George W. Bush had won in both 2000 and 2004. 

2010: The immigration issue was key to erecting a “Latino firewall” in the West that led to Senator Bennet’s victory and ended the “Republican wave” at the Rockies

  • Democrat Michael Bennet has been a consistent supporter of comprehensive immigration reform; he is a co-sponsor of the DREAM Act, and his campaign website stated that it is “time  for  practical,  comprehensive  reform  that  fixes  our  immigration  system  as  a  whole–enhancing  border  security  and  creating  sound  policy  solutions  for  undocumented immigration.”  Republican Ken Buck, on the other hand, advocated an enforcement-only position, and was backed by the extremist Americans for Legal Immigration Reform Political Action Committee (ALIPAC).
  • In a contest where Bennet triumphed over Buck by a mere 15,000 votes, 81% of Latinos went for Bennet.  According to exit polls, Latino turnout was up from 9% of the electorate in the 2006 mid-terms to 13% in 2010. 
  • Immigration was a major factor in driving Latino voters to the polls for Bennet.  In 2010, 29% of Latino voters in Colorado said that immigration was the most important issue in determining their vote, according to Latino Decisions’ election eve polling, and another 28% said that it was “one of the most important” issues. 

2012: Top of the ticket Republicans are anti-immigrant – and that matters

  • Mitt Romney has already seared his image as an anti-immigrant candidate into the minds of Latino voters.  Romney’s vow to veto the DREAM Act and his continued calls for self-deportation of undocumented immigrants are reverberating in the Latino community – and will continue to do so through November.  Romney is being advised by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the author of Arizona’s SB 1070, which is strongly opposed by Latinos in Colorado.  Kobach is also a former attorney for the legal arm of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) – which has been labeled an anti-immigrant hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
  • Latino voters in Colorado heavily favor President Obama over either of the GOP primary frontunners, preferring him 63% to 29% against Mitt Romney and 66% to 29% against Newt Gingrich.  Seventy percent of Colorado Latino voters have a strongly unfavorable view of Romney, while 63% have a strongly unfavorable view of Gingrich.
  • In Colorado, the Democratic Party is led by a Latino, Rick Palacio, who has challenged Republicans’ embrace of hardline anti-immigrant policies.  In comparison, Colorado Republicans’ loudest voice on immigration, immigrants, and Hispanics is arguably super-extremist Tom Tancredo, who founded the restrictionist House Immigration Reform Caucus.  Palacio recently said that Romney has “taken a page from the Tancredo playbook.”  That comparison is accurate, but it should trouble Romney.  Tancredo parlayed his advocacy against immigration into losing presidential and gubernatorial bids, unable to win a statewide or national election by demonizing immigrants.  Tancredo lost the 2010 gubernatorial race to Democrat John Hickenlooper—despite the strength of the Tea Party at the time—after the Latino community turned out to vote against him. 
  • Latinos are also poised to play key roles in U.S. House contests in Colorado.  With the Cook Political Report currently listing CO-3 and CO-6 as races to watch, it remains to be seen whether these districts will be taken by a Democrat or Republican.  In CO-3, 14.77% of voters are Latino, while in CO-6, 5.32% of voters are Latino.  Fifty-six percent of Latinos in Colorado are registered Democrats, while 12% are Republicans.