Republicans won control of the House Tuesday, but their hopes of controlling the Senate as well were stymied by a firewall of Latino voters who were outraged by Republican demonization of Latino immigrants, their Arizona "papers please" law, their proposal to repeal the 14th Amendment, and their overall opposition to comprehensive immigration reform.
The consequences of the Republican anti-immigrant rhetoric will likely spread far beyond last Tuesday's election. The fact that Republicans have alienated the fastest-growing ethnic group in America will have far-reaching consequences for the party's ability to win a Presidential election and compete nationally over the long term.
A quick look at the numbers tells the tale:
- Senator Harry Reid was trailing Tea Party icon Sharron Angle going into Tuesday's election. In fact, Reid beat Angle by over 6 percent.. The big difference was the Latino vote. Reid beat Angle among Latinos a whopping 90% to 8%, and Latino turnout was up from 12% of the electorate in the 2006 Mid-Terms to 15% in 2010.
- In Colorado's Senate race, the consensus polls showed Democrat Michael Bennet losing by about 1% in a close race. Instead he won by 1%. His margin among Latinos was 81% to 19% and Latino turnout was up from 9% of the electorate in 2006 to 13% in 2010.
- In the California Senate race, Barbara Boxer beat Carly Fiorina among Latinos 86% to 14%, and Latino turnout was up from 19% of the electorate in 2006 to 22% in 2010. Fiorina lost despite having spent a record-setting140 million of her own money on the campaign.
Latinos also made the difference in critical Governors' races that will affect the playing field shaped by redistricting.
- In California, Jerry Brown won Latinos 86% to 13% over Republican Meg Whitman, who had endorsed the Arizona law during the primary and whose hypocrisy on immigration became an issue when it was revealed she had hired an undocumented immigrant to be her maid, and then treated her badly.
- John Hickenlooper won the Colorado Governor's mansion in a contest with arch anti-immigrant Tom Tancredo and rightwinger Dan Maes. Among Latinos he got 77% of the vote, compared with 14% and 9% for Tancredo and Maes.
- And in Illinois, Democrat Pat Quinn was re-elected by a margin of fewer than 20,000 votes. Latinos voted for Quinn 83% to 13% for his opponent. Even at 6% of the voters, the support of the Latino community was decisive.
- According to election-eve polling of Latino voters conducted in eight key states (AZ, CA, CO, FL, IL, NM, NV, TX), Latinos overall voted for Democrats over Republicans by approximately 75% to 25% -- a 3 to 1 margin. That is a stark contrast to six years ago when Latinos voted for Democrat John Kerry over George Bush by only 59% to 40% -- a 3 to 2 margin. There has been a massive swing toward Democrats and away from Republicans in this fastest-growing group of voters in the country.
Immigration was the major issue driving these vote totals. In some cases Republican candidates depicted Hispanics as gang members and criminals in ads that were meant to whip up fear among Anglo voters about immigration. That kind of rhetoric is not understood as a difference about a policy or issue. It directly offended the Latino community's sense of identity, pride and self-worth. That drove voter decisions as well as turnout.
The Las Vegas Sun quoted Gilberto Ramirez, a first-time, recently-naturalized voter from Reno, Nevada, as he explained how Sharron Angle's anti-Latino ads influenced the fact that he turned out and the fact that he voted for Harry Reid: "She was depicting me as a gang member. I served seven years in the Marine Corps."
Fiorina and Whitman got on the wrong side of the immigration issue in order to win Republican primaries. Angle, Tancredo, Maes and Colorado Republican Senate candidate Ken Buck overtly trumpeted their anti-immigration positions to whip up fear and anti-immigrant votes. Turned out that was a bad call. And it will likely turn out to be a worse and worse call that will effectively prevent Republicans from winning control of the White House. In fact, demographers tell us that another 1.25 million Latinos will reach voting age between now and 2012.
A major organizational effort by Latino and immigration rights groups helped galvanize voter turn out. The level of organization is only likely to grow over the next several years.
The fact is that as the Latino population continues to grow, it will rapidly become impossible to put together an electoral majority of 270 electoral votes with that kind of Hispanic opposition.
It is increasingly difficult for overtly anti-immigrant candidates to win electoral votes in states like California, Colorado, Nevada, Illinois, New York, New Jersey and Florida. Together these states have 117 electoral votes. It would also be very difficult for them to win New Mexico, and might even put Texas into play. Remember that when John McCain and George Bush ran for President they presented themselves as pro-immigration reform candidates. Bush got a sizable percentage of Hispanic voters. McCain got less, but was not wiped out. Between them, Texas and New Mexico have another 34 electoral votes.
If an anti-immigration Republican disqualifies himself completely in states with 117 electoral votes, and then makes life very difficult in states with another 34 (a total of 151 votes), that massively narrows the playing-field where he or she must assemble the 270 votes needed to win election.
Of course right now, Republicans are flush with their victory in the House, and there is no sign that they recognize the looming political disaster just over the demographic horizon. Already Republicans have denied themselves potential control of the Senate because of their immigrant bashing. It is likely that the fresh gang of Tea Party extremists that they have just sent to Washington will make matters worse. Nothing like being hoisted on your own petard.
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.