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Latino Firewall in the West Saves Senate for Democrats

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CA, CO, NV Races Show the Issue Galvanizes Voters with the Power to Decide Elections

Washington, DC – As pundits sift through the volumes of data to make sense of what happened last night, one piece of data should be clear and unambiguous: the Latino vote delivered.  

Were it not for the Latino firewall in the West, it is likely that the 2010 election would have stayed true to the history of other wave elections and led to Democrats losing majorities in both the House and the Senate.  Instead, the combination of strong contrasts between candidates on immigration, sophisticated voter mobilization efforts in key states and an unexpectedly high Latino turnout kept the Senate in Democratic hands.  Latino voters also played a key factor in determining the outcome in the Governors’ races in California and Colorado. 

Based on election eve polling of Latino voters by Latino Decisions and exit polls that estimated turnout, it is clear that Latino voters provided the margin of difference in a number of key races:

  • In the Nevada Senate race, Harry Reid’s Latino margin over Sharron Angle was 90% – 8%.  According to exit polls, Latino turnout was up from 12% of the electorate in the 2006 mid-terms to 15% in 2010.
  • In the California Senate race, Barbara Boxer’s Latino margin over Carly Fiorina was 86% – 14%.  Latino turnout was up from 19% of the electorate in 2006 to 22% of the electorate in 2010.

  • In the Colorado Senate race, Michael Bennet’s Latino margin over Ken Buck was 81% – 19%.  Latino turnout was up from 9% of the electorate in 2006 to 13% in 2010.

  • In the California governor’s race, Jerry Brown’s Latino margin over Meg Whitman was 86% – 13%.

  •  In the Colorado governor’s race , John Hickenlooper’s Latino margin over Tom Tancredo and Dan Maes was 77% – 14% – 9%.

Following is a statement from Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:

“Last night’s results not only illustrate the power of Latino voters in shaping key 2010 outcomes but that, over time, Latino voters may well prove to be the voting group that determines who gains the upper hand in what is now a 50-50 political nation in which control see-saws between the parties.  In 2010 the ‘Latino firewall’ in the West, in places like California, Colorado, and Nevada, helped save the Senate for Democrats. 

Sharron Angle’s despicable ads demonizing Latino immigrants, Ken Buck’s hardline positions, Carly Fiorina’s embrace of the Arizona anti-immigrant law and her opposition to comprehensive immigration reform, Meg Whitman’s hypocrisy and firing of a housekeeper she once described as a member of the family, and Tom Tancredo’s long career as a nativist extremist all backfired.  At the same time, Harry Reid, Michael Bennet, Barbara Boxer, Jerry Brown and John Hickenlooper all have strong records in favor of immigration reform.  In fact, most of these candidates leaned into the immigration issue rather than shying from it in debates and with Spanish language advertising—sending an important signal to the Latino community that they are fighting for them.”

According to election eve polling of Latino voters conducted in eight states (AZ, CA, CO, FL, IL, NM, NV, TX), Latinos voted for Democrats over Republicans by roughly 75%-25%, or a three to one margin.  Overall, Latino immigrant voters (foreign-born, now naturalized citizens) supported Democrats by even larger margins.  This is in stark contrast to just six years ago, when Latinos voted for the Democratic nominee John Kerry over President George W. Bush by 59% to 40%, or a three to two margin, and with respect to Latino immigrant voters, Kerry and Bush ended up in a virtual tie.  This means that in just six years there has been a huge swing by the fastest growing group of voters in the country away from Republicans and towards Democrats.

But there’s a danger sign for Democrats, as is evident by what happened in Florida’s elections this week.  President Obama won the Florida Hispanic vote overall in 2008, in part by declaring his commitment to making immigration reform a top priority his first year.  Obama won 57% of the Florida Latino vote (including 40% of the Cuban American vote) to John McCain’s 42%.  This year, Senate Republican candidate Marco Rubio won 62% of the Latino vote overall (78% of the Cuban American vote and 40% of non-Cuban Latinos).  This strong performance even seemed to help Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott—who struck a hard line on immigration, especially in the primary—who captured 51% of the Florida Latino vote to Alex Sink’s 48%.  How did this happen?  Unlike in the West, Democratic candidates in Florida did not exploit their opponent’s vulnerability on the immigration issue with Spanish language advertising.  In fact, Marco Rubio ran the most prominent Spanish language ad of the race, highlighting his immigrant roots and avoiding mention of some of his harder-line immigration stances. 

According to Sharry, “Clearly, the composition of the Latino vote in Florida is quite distinct from other states.  But consider the following contrast.  Harry Reid has fought for comprehensive immigration reform for years, fought for the DREAM Act in September of this year and promised to bring up the DREAM Act before the end of the year.  Alex Sink ran only one ad on immigration and it was in English, promising enforcement only.  Reid won the Hispanic vote against an immigration hardliner by 90% – 8%.  Sink lost an admittedly tougher-to-get Hispanic vote by 48% – 51%.  The lesson for Democrats – and the President – is that those who run to the gunfire on immigration do much better with Latino voters than those who don’t.” 

The Role of Immigration in 2010 Outcomes

Others have suggested that immigration is not a high priority issue for Latino voters.  But according to the Latino Decisions election eve polling, the issue is a top tier issue that mobilizes voters:  

  • While 48% of Latino voters chose either “jobs” or “the economy” as their top concern, 37% chose immigration as the second most important issue.  In every state, immigration was among the top two issues that voters wanted policymakers to address, ahead of education, housing, taxes, and other important issues.  In Arizona, the scene of a heated debate over a law that most Latinos strongly oppose (in this poll by a margin of 74% – 17%), immigration (45%) polled ahead of jobs and the economy (41%).  Not surprisingly, the intensity is greater for Latino immigrant voters. 
  • When asked how important the issue of immigration was in their decision to vote, and who to vote for, 60% of Latino voters said it was either “the most important” or “one of the most important” factors.   

But for us, this story captures it best.  The Las Vegas Sun quoted Gilberto Ramirez, a first-time, recently-naturalized voter from Reno, as he explained why Sharron Angle’s anti-Latino ads motivated him to vote this year and to support Senator Harry Reid: “She was depicting me as a gang member.  I served seven years in the Marine Corps.”

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