House Democrats are targeting Hispanic voters in 2014, hoping a constituency that helped drive President Obama’s 2012 victory can be the difference-maker for winning seats in the lower chamber in midterm elections.
Historically the incumbent president’s party loses seats in a midterm election. Only one president in the past century, Bill Clinton, gained seats in his second midterm.
Privately, Democrats decline to project a number of seats they’re hoping to pick up in the next cycle, showing a caution borne of the less-than-favorable landscape for Democrats. On Election Day, Obama won in just 15 districts won by Republicans, and in only eight of those districts did the Republican receive less than 10 percent of the vote.
But Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) Chairman Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) struck an optimistic, rather than cautious, tone for 2014 during a meeting with reporters this week.
"Now remember, we need 17 seats to pick up the House. So we begin with an early universe of 30 districts where the incumbent got less than 10 percent and an additional 18 districts that we think can perform better in an off year than an on year," he said.
Turnout during a midterm election is typically low for both parties, without a presidential contender at the top of the ticket bringing out supporters.
But Israel said Democrats will be targeting Republicans “in areas of growing Latino communities where our candidates competed effectively although may have fallen short at the end of the day,” indicating the party believes their strength with Latino voters this year will hold in 2014.
Twelve-and-a-half million Latinos voted in 2012, 1.8 million more than in 2008, and Obama received the support of more than 70 percent of them this year, according to exit polling.
And a Pew Project report projects that Hispanic voters will account for 40 percent of the growth in the U.S. electorate between now and 2030.
Democrats won’t have the benefit of the Obama turnout machine, and minority voters who may have been inspired to vote for the nation’s first black president could stay home.
But while a top Democratic strategist acknowledged that turnout could be lower for the Democratic Party, the strategist argued that won’t blunt the force of the Hispanic vote.
“We don't need turnout to reach presidential levels for the Hispanic vote to still be really critical in some states,” the strategist said.
Adam Gellner, CEO of National Research, Inc., a top GOP pollster who conducted much of the National Republican Congressional Committee’s (NRCC) polling this cycle, agreed that the Latino vote is something Republicans should be concerned about even in an off year.
“It's not going to be 2012-style turnout, but we should see the writing on the wall in terms of the real emergence of the Hispanic voter,” he said.
Republicans realize this, however. Mitt Romney’s pollster, Glen Bolger, noted in a post-election analysis that “it will be hard to push white voter support for Democrats lower than 39% (which is all Obama got). Thus, to have a chance, Republicans have to appeal to Hispanics.”
The Republican National Committee has launched an official review of the 2012 cycle and will be examining “demographics” as a part of that process.
Gellner said that he believes the party will take the necessary steps to speak more directly to Latino voters, and that “nobody’s going to get caught sleeping on this again.”
“What Republicans need to understand, is that while the Latino vote is a force, they don't have to be a bloc,” he said, adding that Republicans can identify different segments of the Latino population by “socioeconomic status, geographic region” and other characteristics, and “communicate with these voters on issues that would appeal to them."
NRCC Deputy Communications Director Andrea Bozek said Republicans aren’t concerned about the Democratic strategy for 2014.
“We have seen the DCCC’s playbook before - same leaders, same strategy and a lot of partisan chest-thumping which will get you the same results,” she said.
One issue front-and-center in the ongoing pursuit of the Latino vote is immigration reform, and lawmakers from both parties have indicated an eagerness to pursue comprehensive reform over the next year.
Bipartisan passage of any immigration reform could neutralize an issue that has traditionally served Democrats well when it comes to political attacks.
But the top Democratic strategist said that, depending on what the reform measure ends up looking like, it could retain its potency in the next cycle.
“If it is a reflection of the majority of the House Republican caucus and what they have said and what they believe when it comes to immigration issues, it will not be a solution that deals with the issue,” the strategist said.