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Tuesday's shellacking

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WASHINGTON – On a cold evening in Las Vegas on October 22nd, this image burned itself into my memory: as I was looking for my car on a street by the park where President Barack Obama was shouting himself hoarse begging Nevadans to turn out to vote, I saw, through the windows of homes, people watching television or chatting in their living rooms—paying not the slightest bit of attention to the president’s voice thundering in the background. It saddened me. What a difference from 2008.

Last Tuesday, November 2nd, many voters also tuned out Obama and the Democrats.

The House of Representatives passed into Republican hands. The Senate stayed with the Democrats. Harry Reid, leader of a much-reduced Democratic majority, retained his Nevada seat—beating out Tea Party Republican Sharron Angle thanks to the Latino vote.

While new Hispanic Republican candidates emerged triumphant last week, the question that needs to be asked is: how much support did they obtain from Hispanic voters?

With the exception of Marco Rubio, in Florida, the Republicans elected in statewide races—Brian Sandoval for governor of Nevada and Susana Martínez for governor of New Mexico—didn’t win over an exceptional percentage of Latino voters.

Rubio, a Tea Party favorite, did win the Latino vote in his U.S. Senate race in Florida. But the Latino vote in that state is different from the rest of the country. The Cuban vote is concentrated in South Florida. In 2008, 40% of these voters favored Obama, but this time they were energized by disgust with the administration’s policies and by Rubio’s presence on the ballot. Indeed, the Florida gubernatorial race was won by Rick Scott, a Republican who took a hard line on immigration—but who the Democrats took on timidly, at best, on the issue.  

This race has national implications for the Democrats—and not least for the reelection prospects of Obama himself, whose triumph in Florida in 2008, propelled by the Latino vote, helped him win the White House. In the two years until the election, a lot depends on who the Republican candidate for the presidency will be—but Florida is a key swing state, and Democrats need to start putting together strategies to recapture Latino voters’ affection.