Stephen Ohlemacherm, AP, Jan. 9, 2007
Democrats recaptured a big part of the Hispanic vote in this year’s elections, support that Latino activists caution won’t necessarily be there in the next contest.
Nearly seven in 10 Hispanic voters supported Democrats in the congressional elections, according to exit polls. But that’s not the whole story. Republican candidates in several key states did well among Hispanics, suggesting that Latinos could be important swing voters in the 2008 presidential election.
Democrats have long counted on Hispanic voters as a core constituency, so they were concerned after President Bush captured about 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004. That was the most ever for a GOP presidential candidate.
Hispanics are the largest and fastest-growing minority group in the country. But they don’t have proportionate political power in part because many are non-citizens, making them ineligible to vote.
In some states, though, Hispanic voters make up a significant part of the electorate, including Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada _ fast-growing places that could be important battlegrounds in 2008. All four states voted for Bush in 2004, but Democrats have had recent success in each state.
Republicans in Arizona and Nevada received significant support from Hispanic voters in November. Sen. Jon Kyl carried 41 percent of the Arizona Hispanic vote in his re-election victory, according to exit polls. In Nevada, Republican Jim Gibbons won the governor’s race with 37 percent of the Hispanic vote.
Analysts say it’s unlikely that a majority of U.S. Hispanics would back a Republican for president in 2008. Rather, national GOP candidates can expect to receive somewhere between 30 percent and 45 percent of the Hispanic vote, said Roberto Suro, director of the Pew Hispanic Center, a research organization in Washington. But in a close presidential race, the difference between those percentages could be decisive.
Suro said it would take a “seismic shift” for a Republican to garner 50 percent of the Hispanic vote nationwide. However, he added, Republicans would be disappointed to get only 30 percent.
Many Hispanics were angered by the hard line some Republicans took on the illegal immigration debate, and it showed at the polls.
The outgoing Republican National Committee Chairman, Ken Mehlman, said there isn’t unanimity on the immigration issue within his party. He noted that Bush supported an immigration bill that would have provided an eventual path to citizenship for many illegal immigrants.
Immigration is a big issue among Hispanics in the United States, but it’s not the only one of importance. When Latinos were asked in a recent survey to name the most important problem facing the country, more said the war in Iraq and the economy than illegal immigration.
However, when asked about the most important problem facing the Latino community, far more said illegal immigration than any other issue. The survey, called the 2006 National Latino Survey, was conducted over nine months by a team of university professors from across the country.
Latinos tend to be more conservative than most Democrats on social issues, such as abortion and gay marriage, according to the survey. Education and economic issues are also important _ as they are for most voters. But they can carry extra weight for Hispanics because they tend to have lower incomes and lower education levels than non-Hispanic whites.
(Posted on January 10, 2007)
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