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GOP’s Latino problem

Republicans had such high hopes for their little Puerto Rico primary last Sunday.

Local party officials boasted that turnout would be strong, and could even approach 400,000 voters.

“For the first time, Republicans will be able to say that we are having a substantial amount of participants going to vote, sending a message that has been lost for many years because for some reason Puerto Rico has always been identified as a place in favor of the Democrats,” bragged local conservative radio talk show host Adolfo Krans. “It’s going to be fun and it’s going to be very positive for the Republican Party to send a message that Puerto Ricans are not necessarily in favor of the Democratic Party.”

When all was said and done, about 130,000 Puerto Ricans bothered showing up, delivering the exact opposite of Krans’s message: Clearly, Puerto Ricans have no love for the GOP. 

To put the numbers in context, turnout was a third of what local officials expected, and it was significantly smaller than the 385,000 who turned out for a meaningless Democratic primary in July 2008.

Mitt Romney tried to spin his victory: “Those people who don’t think Latinos will vote for a Republican need to take a look at Puerto Rico.” 

OK, let’s look at Puerto Rico. The fact that only 3.5 percent of Puerto Ricans voted in the GOP primary actually confirms the rash of polling that shows Republicans in dire straits with Hispanic voters. 

The latest data come from pollster Latin Insights for, believe it or not, Fox News. That poll found that 70 percent of Hispanics consider themselves Democratic or lean that way, while just 16 percent of them choose or lean Republican. President Obama crushes Romney among Hispanics, 70 percent to 14 percent — worse for the GOP than 2008, when Obama won Hispanics 67 percent to 31 percent. Given the feverish anti-immigrant rhetoric and legislation coming out of the GOP today, Romney will be lucky to break 20 percent once undecideds make their call.

As of 2010, Hispanics made up 8 percent of the population of both North Carolina and Virginia, and that’s a number that is growing rapidly. It’s true that a disproportionate number of Hispanics in those states aren’t old enough to vote, but with results expected to be razor-thin, Hispanics might very well be the difference. After all, in 2008, then-Sen. Obama won North Carolina by just 14,000 votes out of nearly 4.3 million cast.

And then there’s the Mountain West, with huge Hispanic populations — Arizona (30 percent Hispanic), Nevada (27 percent), Colorado (21 percent) and New Mexico (46 percent). John McCain won Arizona by 9 points in 2008. Yet had he lost Hispanics in his state 80 percent to 20 percent, he would’ve lost Arizona by a point.

So it’s hard to overstate the significance of the GOP losing Hispanics by these kinds of margins. If Hispanics deliver Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, North Carolina and Virginia to Obama, then there’s absolutely no realistic path to victory for the GOP nominee. That’s why at least some Republicans understand their party’s predicament. 

“[I]t is pretty obvious that we can’t continue to lose Latinos 2 to 1 as we did in 2008 and remain competitive as a national party,” said GOP strategist Whit Ayres. “If we don’t do better among Latinos, we are not going to be talking about how to get back Florida in the presidential race, we are going to be talking about how not to lose Texas.”

Moulitsas is the publisher and founder of Daily Kos (dailykos.com).