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Range of Experts Agree: Primary Battle on Immigration Will Hurt GOP in General

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immigrantsWhile economic issues are of paramount importance to Latino voters, just like all Americans, the issue of immigration remains a defining, threshold issue for this fast-growing group of voters.  The hardline immigration stances abounding in the Republican primary season are putting Latino voters further out of reach for the GOP in the general election, with huge implications for battleground states like Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, and New Mexico and the overall results.  A series of observers and pundits from across the political spectrum are reaching that same conclusion:

Mark McKinnon in The Daily Beast: McKinnon, formerly an advisor to George W. Bush and John McCain, noted that competitiveness with Hispanic voters is an essential component of any Republican’s winning bid for the White House and that the current primary battles on immigration have not helped position the GOP well for the general election.  Wrote McKinnon:

While economic issues are the priority for Hispanics—whether of Mexican, Cuban, or Puerto Rican heritage—and should be if the election remains a referendum on the president’s job performance, the GOP candidates’ tone on immigration colors perceptions of the party…With his nativist rhetoric, Romney helped to destroy the Perry campaign, and possibly his own in the long term, with Newt Gingrich taking a more moderate position on resolving illegal immigration.  Here’s the harsh reality: unless Republicans win enough support from Hispanic voters, it doesn’t matter what happens in the rest of the campaign.  The GOP will lose.

Range of Observers in POLITICO:  Observers from across the political spectrum offered similar assessments in a new piece from Ben Smith in POLITICO.  As Smith writes:

The litany of complaints about Romney is long.  Perhaps the sharpest is that he says he would veto the DREAM Act, a poll-tested corner of immigration reform that would legalize only the most virtuous of illegal immigrants: people who came as children and then enrolled in college or the military.  A Univision poll released Tuesday found 54 percent of Hispanic voters saying they’d be less likely to choose a candidate who promises to veto the legislation, which has the support of more than 90 percent of Hispanic voters in other polls.  Romney also repeatedly used immigration as a wedge on the campaign trail…Fueling the frustration of Hispanic leaders: Romney has not, in fact, faced a serious challenge from the anti-immigrant right, and the immigration attacks were not ultimately what felled Perry, the man who was for a moment his most threatening opponent.

Ana Navarro, a Republican advisor to John McCain, Jeb Bush, and others, said in the piece:

Romney has done himself some real damage…Romney has now thrown Obama a lifesaver on the issue.  It’s been stupid and unnecessary.  He could have been more nuanced and left himself room to maneuver…Immigration is not most the important issue for Hispanics, but it definitely sets a tone.

Similarly, Eliseo Medina, the Secretary-Treasurer of SEIU, said of Romney’s hardline immigration positioning in the primary:

It’s really a gratuitous, self-inflicted wound…He’s had three months in which he was been doing nonstop bashing immigrants basically — and the sad part of it is I don’t think he had to.

Ruy Teixeira in The New Republic:  In a piece entitled, “Why Obama’s Re-Election Hinges on the Hispanic Vote,” Teixeira, a pollster and demographic expert, explained the increasing importance of the Hispanic vote to President Obama’s re-election prospects and underscored the way that the Republicans have mishandled the issue in their primary season.  Wrote Teixeira:

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the current anti-immigrant tilt of the Republican Party, especially as displayed in the primaries, has decisively turned off Hispanic voters and thrown them into the arms of the Democrats.  And the likely nominee, Mitt Romney, who is typically viewed as a moderate compared to the others vying for the GOP nomination, will have difficulty reversing this judgment.  On immigration issues, Romney has been aggressively conservative in an effort to outflank his more ideological opponents.  He’s promised to veto the DREAM Act if it comes to his desk as president, opposes in-state college tuition for illegal immigrants, and rejects any path to citizenship for the undocumented.  More generally, he has consistently sneered at any sign of softness among his primary opponents on these issues, raising the specter of an increasing flood of illegal immigrants coddled by the law and provided with benefits they don’t deserve.  If Hispanic support for the President winds up as strong as it now appears and their turnout holds up—giving Obama at least 75 percent of what should be around 28 percent of the entire vote—the benefits to the Obama campaign would be huge.  Crucially, it would give him considerable leeway to lose white support but still win the popular vote.