Home | Opinion | Columnists | Markos Moulitas

Hispanic backlash

In a GOP primary contest marked by vicious anti-immigrant sentiment, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) was able to survive only by publicly recanting his most notable accomplishment of the past four years — his sponsorship of comprehensive immigration reform. While the Republican base never fully bought the death-bed conversion, it served to neutralize the issue and help McCain get the nomination.

McCain’s abandonment of his supposed “straight talk” on immigration was a lucky break for the GOP. In a year when the Hispanic vote is coming into its own, nominating one of the more rabidly anti-immigration Republicans would’ve guaranteed that vote to the Democrats for a generation. McCain, alone among prominent Republicans, can at least attempt to execute a semi-credible flip-flop back to the mainstream on immigration. But an NDN study of this year’s primaries reveals that his party may already have irrevocably alienated Hispanic voters.

Already the largest minority in this country at about 15 percent of the population, the Hispanic vote is changing the political map. Arizona (30.3 percent) and New Mexico (44.8 percent) are trending Democratic on the strength of burgeoning Hispanic populations, as are Nevada (24.4 percent) and Colorado (19.7 percent). California (35.9 percent) is already solidly Democratic. Eighteen other states are between 5 and 14 percent Hispanic, including swing states like Washington, Oregon, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida.

In Texas, Hispanics (34.7 percent) have arisen from their long slumber. While 184,990 Hispanics turned out in the state’s 2004 primaries, that number skyrocketed to 954,492 in 2008. Republicans pulled only 131,701 Hispanics in their contest, or a shockingly low 12 percent of the total. By comparison, George W. Bush garnered 49 percent of the Texas Hispanic vote in 2004. Furthermore, Hispanics made up 27 percent of the 2008 Texas primary electorate, compared to 20 percent in the 2004 general election. In short, Texas’s Hispanics are voting in far larger and more Democratic numbers.

In Ohio, the Hispanic share of the vote increased to 4 percent in this year’s primary, and went from 64-35 Democratic in 2004 to 81-19 this year. In a state as closely fought and contested as this one, every vote matters. In purple Virginia, Hispanics increased their participation to 5 percent and swung Democratic 83-17.

Pew surveys have tracked the GOP’s cratering popularity with Hispanics from a 49-28 deficit in voter identification in 2006 to 57-23 in 2007. All of this comes during a cycle when the Hispanic percentage of the overall vote is estimated to reach 14 percent, compared to 9.3 percent in 2004. (It was 12.8 percent in the 2007 off-year elections.)

What’s this all mean? Karl Rove gets it when he says, “I am worried. You cannot ignore the aspirations of the fastest-growing minority in America.” The GOP’s top tactician knows his party faces a world of hurt for years to come. The GOP thought they had their new wedge issue in immigration — instead, as NDN concludes, “the relentless demonization of Hispanics by the GOP has turned this community, the fastest growing part of the American electorate, against them.”

Ironically, even the GOP’s own supporters don’t buy the harsh rhetoric. According to exit polls from this year’s primary states, Republican voters oppose deportation in most states, from 54 percent in Louisiana, Georgia and Virginia to 61 percent in Texas.

The vocal anti-immigrant fringe promised electoral gold to Republicans. Instead, it’s delivering electoral annihilation.

Moulitsas is founder and publisher of Daily Kos .