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To Turn Out Latino Vote, President Obama Should Look to Harry Reid 2010

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Mitt Romney has apparently decided that he can’t compete for the Latino vote, so he’s going to focus his energies on depressing it.  This strategy is already in force in states like Nevada and Colorado, the latter being where PBS News Hour interviewed a Latina voter who summed up the situation: “Obama promised us big immigration reform, and he hasn’t followed through. But the other side attacks us. Hispanics are sitting in the middle. And we don’t know which way to go.”

This presents a challenge – and an opportunity – for the Obama campaign.

Obama Campaign Manager Jim Messina, in an interview with John Heilemann from New York magazine, explained his planned response to the Republican onslaught: “I expect us to counter that the way Harry Reid did [in his 2010 reelection battle]—with a full discussion of the issues and a huge ground game.”

What happened in 2010 in Nevada is a good model for 2012.  Harry Reid didn’t just have a “full discussion of the issues”; he showed leadership.  He promised to bring the DREAM Act to a vote during his campaign in the summer of 2010 and kept that promise by raising the issue on the Senate floor in September (when Republicans blocked it), and securing a vote in December.  According to polling by Latino Decisions, that action had an almost immediate impact.

Seventy-eight percent of Latino voters support the DREAM Act, versus just 12% who oppose.  During the week in September 2010 when the DREAM Act faced a procedural vote in the Senate, Democrats saw a favorable turn in perceptions that they were working or making progress on immigration reform.

Reid continued to defend immigration throughout his 2010 campaign, in stark contrast to his virulently anti-immigrant challenger Sharron Angle.  Reid eventually defeated Angle by six percentage points, including winning 90% of the Latino vote to Angle’s 8%. In October 2011, Senate Majority Leader Reid attributed his victory to this support, saying, “I would not be the majority leader in the United States Senate today, but for the Hispanics in Nevada.”

It took some bold action – and leadership – to ensure that Latino voters had a reason to turn out at high levels.  Latino voters are now waiting for that kind of promised leadership from President Obama.  Last year, 22 U.S. Senators, including Reid and two other beneficiaries of 2010 Latino turnout [Sens. Michael Bennet (CO) and Barbara Boxer (CA)] urged the President to use his executive powers to protect DREAMers. President Obama should follow their advice.

Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice said:

Now is the perfect time for President Obama to use his Executive power to provide relief for DREAMers.  Republicans are going to spend millions on Spanish-language TV to remind Latino voters that the President has not delivered on his promise of immigration reform (ignoring the role of Republican Party leaders in blocking reform).  But, the President should take up this challenge and provide relief for DREAMers. This action will rebut the GOP attack and generate much needed enthusiasm among a key constituency.  And, if Mitt Romney and his anti-immigrant advisors, Kris Kobach, Lamar Smith, and Steve King, want to challenge relief for DREAMers, so be it.  Their reaction will send also message to Latino voters.