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Tonight's GOP Debate In Las Vegas: Latino Voters, Immigration and How Harry Reid Won in 2010

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gop debateJudging by past debates and recent rhetoric on the campaign trail, tonight’s Republican presidential debate in Nevada is likely to feature continued discussion of immigration.  As you cover tonight’s debate – perhaps even as you make your way into the debate venue – you will likely hear a lot about immigration and Latino voters.  Below are key points and pieces of information to help prepare you on the topic:

Evidence of the Power of the Latino Vote?  Just Ask Harry ReidAccording to the Las Vegas Review Journal this week, “U.S. Sen. Harry Reid said Sunday he owes his job to Latinos, the West’s growing political power who could be key to future Democratic victories and the re-election of President Barack Obama. 

Reid, who won a tough 2010 re-election thanks in part to strong Latino turnout, said:

I would not be the majority leader in the United States Senate today, but for the Hispanics in Nevada.  As we’ve proved in 2008, the way to the White House is through the West. 

According to Latino Decisions election eve polling and America’s Voice post-2010 election analysis, the Latino firewall in the West helped keep the U.S. Senate in Democratic hands, stopping the Republican wave at the Rockies.  In addition to Senator Reid, Senators Boxer (CA), Bennet (CO), and Murray (WA) all won against tough challengers with strong support from Latino voters.  And in California’s gubernatorial race, Republican nominee Meg Whitman mishandled the immigration issue by tacking hard right in the primary, helping to drive Latino voters to the Democratic candidate Jerry Brown.

Nevada Latinos – a Growing Political Force:  In the 2010 elections, Latino turnout in Nevada was up from 12% of the electorate in the 2006 midterms to 15% in 2010.  The 2010 Census data also confirmed the growing clout of Latinos in Nevada.  Among the key findings, the Latino population in the state grew by 82% from 2000 to 2010, helping Nevada net an extra seat in Congress.  Latino population growth was responsible for 46% of all growth in the state from 2000 to 2010.  In 2000, Latinos constituted 19.7% of Nevada’s total population; they now constitute 26.5% of the population.

New Polling Shows Multiple Problems for 2012 GOP Field Among Latino Voters:  According to new polling of Latino voters released yesterday by Latino Decisions/impreMedia, the Republican field is facing both low name recognition among Latino voters as well as low approval for their Party among this fast-growing group of new voters. 

The polling found that 40% of Latino respondents had no opinion or were not familiar with Rick Perry, a figure that rose to 46% for Mitt Romney, 58% for Michele Bachman, 73% for Herman Cain, and 75% for Jon Huntsman.  As a whole, the Republican Party still faces low approval among Latino voters, as only 22% of Latino voters said they were likely to support the Republican presidential nominee, which is a long way from the 40% minimum needed for the GOP candidate to re-take the White House.  The polling also showed that Latino voters continue to be animated by the immigration issue, ranking it as the top issue for Washington to address, alongside economy/jobs (both received 42% support as the top issue named by Latino voters). 

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