Immigration does matter. Not only is the issue alive in the hearts and minds of American voters, but it was a mobilizing force in this election for Latinos. It motivated unprecedented turnout by this emerging voting bloc, which has been credited for the Democratic sweep across the country.

In the 2008 election cycle, the Republican Party and its candidates spent millions of dollars and ran hundreds of ads attempting to use immigration as a wedge issue in scores of competitive races throughout the country. Like in 2006, when the GOP employed a similar strategy, the 2008 attempt went down in flames and the Party was handed major setbacks at the ballot box.

As post-election analysis from pundits moves from discussing how the Latinos turned out in favor of Democrats at historic levels in 2008 to analyzing why this shift occurred, many have recognized that immigration was the driving factor behind Latino mobilization and their break towards Democratic candidates. “The Republican Party is at a cross-roads, and for reasons of both good policy and good politics, they need to get on the right side of the immigration issue,” said Lynn Tramonte, Policy Director at America’s Voice.

Especially in the key Latino battleground states of Colorado, Florida, New Mexico, and Nevada, the Latino vote’s rapid growth and break towards Democratic candidates played a key role in Democratic victories up and down the ballot. For example, while overall Latino voters in Florida supported President Bush 55% to John Kerry’s 44% in 2004, Obama won 57% of these voters in 2008 to McCain’s 42%. 2008 was the first year a Democratic Presidential candidate won this demographic in Florida since polling by ethnicity has been done there, and was a key factor in Obama’s victory.

Latino and immigrant voters played a decisive role in yesterday’s election by delivering four key battleground states to Senator Barack Obama, lifting many pro-solution members of the House and Senate to victory, and defeating anti-immigrant legislators. While Latinos care about the same major issues most Americans do, the issue of immigration both drove them to the polls and helped push this fastest-growing voting bloc to support Democratic candidates in 2008.

With its unprecedented size and level of political engagement this cycle, the Latino vote has grown into one of the most important voting blocs to monitor on Election Day. Here are some key numbers related to the Latino vote to keep in mind when monitoring tonight’s election returns: The Latino vote is expected to increase from 7.6 million in 2004 to 9.2 million this year – an increase of 1.6 million…

With its unprecedented size and level of political engagement this cycle, the Latino vote has grown into one of the most important voting blocs to monitor on Election Day, especially in key battleground states. “Tomorrow’s elections will show that Latino and immigrant voters have arrived as a potent political force with the ability to tilt elections,” said Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice. “These voters have a real stake in this country and are eager to make their voices heard.”

But what will drive new Latino voters to the polls in record numbers is the immigration debate. This is because immigration has emerged as the “threshold” issue for many Latino voters. Like civil rights for African-American voters, the immigration debate distinguishes those candidates who get that Latinos are hard working Americans from those whose rhetoric suggests that Latinos are dangerous outsiders.”