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Evidence Arizona Immigration Law May Be Fatal Mistake for GOP

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There is compelling new evidence that Republicans will rue the day that they allowed their virulent anti-immigrant wing to grab the controls of the Republican Party.

In fact, contrary to much of the pundit chatter, a drama is playing out this fall that may doom Republicans to permanent minority status in America.

The passage of the Arizona "papers, please" anti-immigration law has forced Republican politicians around the country into a political box canyon that does not offer an easy escape. For fear of offending the emergent Tea Party - and other anti-immigrant zealots in their own base -- they are precipitating a massive realignment of Latino voters nationwide.

According to data released by Public Policy Polling (PPP), Texas Governor Rick Perry has lost his early lead over Democratic challenger Bill White and the race is now tied. The movement from a previous PPP poll in February comes entirely from Hispanic voters. PPP reports that:

"With white voters Perry led 54-36 then and leads 55-35 now. With black voters White led 81-12 then and 70 -7 now. But with Hispanics Perry has gone from leading 53-41 to trailing 55-21....there is no doubt the (Arizona) immigration bill is popular nationally. But if it causes Hispanics to change their voting behavior without a parallel shift among whites then it's going to end up playing to Democratic advantage this fall."

The punditry sometimes forgets that in politics intensity is often just as important as poll percentages. For many Hispanic voters, the Arizona immigration law is an insult. It is an attack on their very identity. And it is certainly a litmus test that tells a Hispanic voter whether or not a political candidate is on their side - the critical threshold test of voter decision making.

The same is simply not true for non-Hispanic voters. As a result, by allowing the Party to be defined by the anti-immigrant zealots - and refusing to lift a finger to pass comprehensive immigration reform in Congress - the Republicans are playing with political fire.

In fact, given the fact that Hispanics are the fastest-growing segment of the American electorate, the Republicans are playing with permanent marginality.

As if to sharpen their anti-immigrant brand, last week the Texas Republican State Convention voted for a platform that included a plank calling on the state government to adopt a state law like the one in Arizona.

But Texas is far from the only place where the emerging Latino backlash is in evidence. PPP reports that its latest polls in Colorado show that incumbent Democratic Senator Michael Bennett has gone from tying his opponent Republican Jane Norton to a three-point lead largely because his lead among Hispanic voters has soared from 12 to 21 points.

California Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman felt compelled to back tough anti-immigrant measures to get the Republican nomination. Now her support among Latinos is hemorrhaging, dropping from 35 to 26 points from March to May. Since the primary, Whitman has begun to waffle on her tough anti-immigrant stand but the damage has been done - what's more, it's memorialized in videos that Democrat Jerry Brown is sure to loop over and over on Spanish language TV.

Even in districts where the Hispanic vote is not large, big declines in Republican support could prove decisive in otherwise close races. After all the difference between getting 49.9% and 51.1% means everything in an election.

The bottom line is that by passing the Arizona "papers, please" law, Republicans - especially in the West - have awakened a sleeping and growing giant.

Remember that the huge drops in Hispanic support for Republicans do not factor in the effect the Arizona law will have on Hispanic turnout.

A few months ago, no one would have predicted a massive turnout in November among Hispanic voters. That appears to have changed.

If a surge of anti-Republican Hispanic voters destroys the careers of enough politicians who thought that pandering to anti-immigrant fear was good politics, the whole political narrative about immigration reform will change.

Watch for big sections of the Republican establishment to fall all over themselves to make amends to the rising tide of Latino voters, soon after the elections. But in all likelihood it will be very difficult to get the anti-immigrant toothpaste back into the tube.

If it continues to pursue its current course, the Republican Party may find that it loses another ethnic minority the same way it lost African Americans two generations ago. African Americans recall, were a solid part of the Republican base from the Civil War through the early part of the 20th Century. Roosevelt's New Deal began to change that. The civil rights revolution and the Republican "Southern Strategy" completed it. Now 92% to 95% of African Americans vote Democratic. The problem is that you can only get shut out of a couple of minorities and before you know it, you are no longer competitive with the majority of Americans.

Within just a few years minorities will become a majority of the American electorate. And let's remember that Republicans are also having enormous difficulty competing for young white millennial voters that are forming their voting habits at this moment. That may very well mean that the decision to write off Hispanics may turn out to be a fatal error for the future of Republicans as a national party. Hispanic voters could have been a political lifeboat for Republicans. No longer.

And of course the irony is that some of the more enlightened elements of the Republican Party - who have justified risking long-term popularity with Hispanics in exchange for short-term political gains - may not even see benefits in the short run.

For some years, Latino immigration rights marchers have carried signs reading: "Today We March, Tomorrow We Vote." Tomorrow may have arrived.

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the recent book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com.

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