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Fernando Espuelas Headshot

Latinos Hold the Key to Democrats' Victory (or Defeat) in 2014

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The Washington echo chamber has Democrats being crushed in November's midterms. There is the history of second-term midterms, the president's mediocre approval ratings, Obamacare's hangover, electoral maps and myriad other factors cited by analysts to declare the November election effectively over.

It's just a matter of how big of a blowout Democrats will suffer, so they say.

Yet what even the best political analysts don't contemplate is the Latino vote. Okay, if history is a guide, they shouldn't even think about Latino voters in the midterms. Frankly, Hispanic voters seem to take a collective vacation during midterm elections, consistently failing to show up.

As one of the main pillars of the Democratic coalition, and the least-leveraged part of the electorate, with over 50 percent of Latino voters not showing up during the 2012 presidential election, the case for Latino influence in midterms is weak, bordering on wish fulfillment.

Certainly that is part of the Republicans' calculus too. Witness the endless parade of offensive actions and rhetorical attacks emanating from Republican politicians with the effect of alienating Hispanic voters. The vacillations on the iconic Latino issue of immigration -- the painful excuses and crude insults -- are calculated to connect with other voters: Tea Party types and other archconservatives for whom immigration reform is an issue as equally emotional as it is for American Latinos.

In other words, Republicans are more afraid of alienating their conservative base than the reality that they are killing off any future chance for Latino support.

But what about the Democrats? Yes, they are at the forefront of pushing for immigration reform. The bipartisan Senate comprehensive immigration reform bill passed about a year ago received unanimous support from all Democratic senators.

In the House, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her caucus have called out Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his party, presenting an alternative bill, H.R. 15, which would mesh parts of the Senate reform with border-security measures already passed by the Republican House majority. Most recently, House Democrats pushed for a discharge petition demanding an open vote of the House. Not one Republican has signed on, effectively killing chances of a vote.

Meanwhile, immigration reform activists have split between groups that understand that Republicans have been blocking immigration reform since at least 2007 and fantasists who demand that President Obama violate the immigration statute and "stop all deportations."

It is this second group that has given Republicans the breathing room to ignore the existential risk of alienating generations of Latino voters, and therefore the political space to concentrate on placating the anti-immigrant wing of their party.

While there is little risk to the Democrats that Latinos will wake up November 4 and vote en masse for the party of "self-deportation," the very real risk is that they will stay home. Disgusted, disenchanted and predisposed not to vote any way, Latino voters may hand Democrats a bleak November indeed.

Then there is the alternate scenario. While 2010 was the iconic year when Republicans turned out their base, fueled by Tea Party fervor, and Democratic voters in their apathy disproportionately stayed home, there is one election in that cycle that stands out.

It was in 2010 when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was singled out as one of the most vulnerable incumbents in the nation -- he would undoubtedly be torched in the Tea Party forest fire.

Of course, Reid went on to buck the cycle's trend and defeat his Republican opponent. Post-election analysis showed that Reid was not just able to win a huge majority of Latinos -- his campaign actually increased Hispanic turnout by focusing on Republican candidate Sharron Angle's anti-immigrant virulence.

Today, considering the plethora of GOP anti-Latino rhetoric swishing through the media, Republican House members voting to deport the Dreamers and the determined blocking of immigration reform by the Boehner-led House, the 2010 Reid formula shows a clear path for Democrats.

Should the Democratic Party decide to actively campaign for Latino votes, as Reid did in 2010, a November "Latino Surprise" will save the Democrats.

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