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ICYMI: How the Immigration Debate Changed the Course of the 2012 Election

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In a New Huffington Post Latino Voices Blog, Frank Sharry Explains How the President’s Courage Trumped Romneys Cowardice  

Ahead of election day, Frank Sharry, Executive Director at America’s Voice, makes the case for how the issue of immigration influenced the course of the 2012 election.  In a new Huffington Post Latino Voices blog, Sharry recounts how President Obama’s decision to lean into the controversial issue and grant relief to 1.4 million DREAMers helped turn around his campaign, and how Mitt Romney’s lurch to the right on the issue will likely doom his candidacy.

Below are excerpts from, “How the Immigration Debate Changed the Course of the 2012 Election.”  The piece is also available online here.

With respect to Latino voters, the two key factors to consider are margin and mobilization. Regarding margin, the most recent impreMedia/Latino Decisions tracking poll shows that Obama is crushing Romney by 73 percent to 21 percent….The latest poll shows that Latinos are more enthusiastic and more likely to vote than ever….And add this fact into the mix: NALEO, the nation’s foremost authority on the Hispanic vote, predicts that 12.2 million Latinos will cast ballots in 2012 — an increase of 26 percent from 2008.

If these predictions come true, then Latinos will vote in record numbers and by an unprecedented 3-1 margin for Obama. This dynamic has already turned New Mexico solid blue and could be huge in Nevada, Colorado, Florida and even Virginia. Here’s my prediction: the day after the election, many a pundit will be chewing on the fact that Latinos played a decisive role in the outcome of the Presidential race.

The biggest single factor in driving such margins and mobilization? The dueling immigration stances of the two candidates. After a disappointing first term, in June of this year the President took bold executive action on behalf of young DREAMers, reigniting Latino voter support in the process. Meanwhile, the video clips of Romney pledging to veto the DREAM Act and promoting “self-deportation” should be permanent display at the Museum of Campaign Infamy (next to the clip of Gerry Ford claiming Eastern Europe was not subject to Soviet domination, the photograph of Mike Dukakis in the tank and the shot of George H.W. Bush checking his watch during a debate).

Still, could Romney have won the GOP nomination if he hadn’t become a born-again nativist? Most likely. Immigration was not a top tier issue for Republicans primary voters….Even so, once he had the nomination sewed up, Romney had a last chance to “Etch-a-Sketch” his way to the middle and regain his competitiveness with Latino voters. Florida Senator Marco Rubio began making loud noises — and garnering fawning press coverage — about introducing a “Republican version” of the DREAM Act. The plan reportedly would have offered permanent status but not a certain path to citizenship to young immigrants. Democrats were terrified that Rubio would ride in on his white horse from stage right, fill the vacuum created by Obama’s mishandling of the immigration issue and throw Romney a much-needed lifeline. Rubio set things up brilliantly and the Obama camp was sweating bullets. But an overly cautious Romney said, in effect, thanks but no thanks.

While Romney took a pass, Obama took a chance. On June 15, 2012 the President granted deferred action — relief from deportation and work permits — to 1.4 million DREAMers — young undocumented immigrants who are American in all but paperwork. It seems advocates were right all along — the President did have the authority to change immigration policy unilaterally.

The announcement changed the game. Not only was it the right thing to do, it was politically brilliant. It turned things around with Latino voters. By chance, Latino Decisions was in the middle of conducting a poll of Latino voters in key battleground states when the President made his announcement. The before and after results showed a huge spike in enthusiasm.

So, Romney missed the moment and Obama seized it. Since then, Obama has leaned into the issue with pride. A DREAMer spoke at the Democratic convention, he is running ads in Spanish touting his decision to protect them and he and his surrogates bring it up every chance they get. Meanwhile, Romney has thrown a few centrist head fakes and made noises about an unspecified “permanent solution” on immigration. But he has never disavowed or distanced himself his far right primary positions, and that is how he remains branded.

At a critical moment, and in contrast to Romney, the President showed courage….[and] it’s going to change a lot of lives. It’s also going to help President Obama win re-election on Tuesday.

America’s Voice — Harnessing the power of American voices and American values to win common sense immigration reform.