Is GOP in Danger From Ignoring Latinos?

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CBS
Sen.-elect Marco Rubio of Florida is one of three Latinos who won statewide elected office in the 2010 midterm elections.
AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

Despite a growing recognition in political circles of the political clout of the Hispanic community in the United States, several potential 2012 Republican presidential contenders are skipping an event next month billed precisely as a way for the GOP to address that community, Politico reports.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, South Dakota Sen. John Thune, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Texas Gov Rick Perry will all reportedly miss the first Hispanic Leadership Network conference next month in Miami. So far, the only potential presidential candidate confirmed to attend is Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Carlos Gutierrez, who served as commerce secretary under former President George W. Bush, will co-chair the two-day event. The Bush family, perhaps more than any other Republicans, have shown how the GOP can effectively court the Latino community.

While Hispanic Americans are typically reliably Democratic voters, they far from politically homogeneous. In fact, Hispanic Republicans made historic gains in the 2010 midterm elections. For the first time ever, three Latino candidates won top statewide offices, and they are all Republicans: New Mexico's Governor-elect Susana Martinez, Nevada's Governor-elect Brian Sandoval and Florida's Sen.-elect Marco Rubio. Still, Latino voters in the 2010 elections largely sided with Democrats.

If it ignores the Latino community in the 2012 presidential race, the GOP could cede critical ground. States with large Hispanic populations, such as Florida, Nevada and New Mexico, are expected to be battleground states in the next election. This week's Census report makes Florida and Nevada even more critical -- both states won one more electoral college vote.

The Census won't release the racial breakdown of their 2010 report until February or March, but the bureau did release some data from the American Community Survey indicating that the growth in some states could be attributable to growing Hispanic populations. The survey showed that there are more than 45 million Hispanics in the U.S., twice as many as 20 years ago. The Census predicts that by 2050, nearly one in three U.S. residents will be Hispanic.

The New Presidential Math: Analyzing Census Results, Part 1
Census Winners (Texas) and Losers (Obama)

In addition to states like Florida and Texas, Georgia may also be able to attribute its electoral vote pickup to a growing Hispanic population, Clarissa Martinez, director of immigration and national campaigns for the National Council of La Raza, told Chris Good of the Atlantic Magazine. Census data has shown that Hispanics' share of the population in Georgia has grown by nearly 50 percent since 2000.

Democrats should be keenly aware of the importance of the Hispanic voting bloc. In the 2010 midterms, strong support from the Hispanic community helped bolster Democrats in tough races, including California Sen. Barbara Boxer, Nevada Sen. Harry Reid and Washington Sen. Patty Murray.

While Democrats failed in their attempts to address immigration reform this year in Congress, President Obama has made a strong commitment to revive the issue, even in the face of GOP opposition.

I am determined to get immigration done," he said in a press conference Wednesday. "It is the right thing to do... We need to reform this immigration system so we are a nation of laws and we are a nation of immigrants."

Mr. Obama also said failing to pass the DREAM Act, a measure intended to give upstanding undocumented young people a pathway to citizenship, was his "biggest disappointment."

Obama: My "Biggest Disappointment" is Not Passing DREAM Act

Republicans in Congress, meanwhile, have said that border security must be addressed before there is any further discussion about immigration reform.

Mario Lopez, the conservative president of the Hispanic Leadership Fund, told the Atlantic's Good that Latino voters are comfortable with having a discussion about border security so long as it does not conflate law-abiding Hispanic residents with criminals.

"Border security is completely on the table with the majority of Latino voters, and Latino voters in general--punishing illegal alien smugglers and criminals, and if you go after people who are here who are felons or gang members or something like that--the problem is with the rhetoric, when you start lumping people in with them," he said.

Some advocates for immigration reform have pointed to some Republican rhetoric they complain does just that. The Census counts undocumented immigrants in its decennial report, but it does not ask people about their residency status. Nevertheless, Republican Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana released a statement this week blaming his state's loss of representation on illegal immigrants.

"Louisiana stands to lose clout in Congress, while states that welcome illegal immigrants stand to unfairly benefit from artificially inflated population totals," he said.



Stephanie Condon is a political reporter for CBSNews.com. You can read more of her posts here. Follow Hotsheet on Facebook and Twitter.