Can the GOP Win the Latino Vote – and Does It Matter?
At last week’s Republican presidential debate a member of the audience provocatively reminded the candidates that not all of the Latinos in the United States are illegal, and then asked them, “What is the message from you guys to our Latino community?” Nearly everyone on stage dodged the question, saying that they didn’t have a specific message for Hispanic voters because “they want virtually exactly what everyone else wants” such as a healthy economy and access to affordable health insurance. That may be true, but the exchange raises the broader issue of whether the Republicans can connect with the growing number of American citizens with links back to Latin America.
Finding a good answer to this question is more important than ever. Some 50.5 million people – or one in six Americans – fall under this moniker. In every single state of the union, the Latino population grew over the past decade – including in swing states such Florida, Iowa, Virginia, Georgia and North Carolina.
What the presidential frontrunners have done quite vocally is attack one another for “soft” immigration stances and lashed out against “illegals”. Herman Cain ratcheted up the rhetoric to an all time high, suggesting electrifying the border fence and killing anyone who tried to cross into the United States from Mexico. A wave of harsh immigration laws – requiring police to check the immigration status of anyone they suspect is undocumented, punishing landlords that rent to those without papers, and even checking immigration status at schools — have passed in states including Arizona, Georgia, and Alabama. With the economy in the doldrums and unemployment near historic highs, blaming illegal immigrants for many of America’s ills has gained traction, particularly within the Republican Party. Though technically not directed at U.S. Latinos, many feel the rising hostility targets them all the same.
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