10/07/2014 03:47 pm ET Updated Dec 07, 2014

Latino Voters Could Hold the Key in Georgia's Elections

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Today, People For the American Way released our latest Spanish-language TV ad in Georgia challenging Republican Gov. Nathan Deal and Senate candidate David Perdue on their stands against issues important to many Latino voters in their state: fair minimum wage laws and the rights of immigrants.

Latino voters in Georgia make up a significant minority of the population -- in the latest Census estimate, a little over 9 percent of Georgians identify themselves as Hispanic or Latino. Politicians in states like Georgia may find it convenient to ignore or scapegoat Latinos in the short term; but elected officials ignore their voices and candidates ignore their influence at their own peril.

In Georgia, Republicans have gone out of their way to disenfranchise Latino voters, going after a voter registration effort in black, Latino and Asian American communities and passing a version of Arizona's draconian anti-immigrant SB 1070. That's not only the wrong thing to do; in the long term, it's bad politics.

Latinos are one of the fastest-growing demographic groups in the country, and, despite many obstacles and consistent attacks, they are rapidly organizing to take their rightful place at the table, even in places that might be surprising, like Georgia.

In the 2012 presidential election, Mitt Romney's disastrous economic policies and harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric caused him to lose Latino voters, one of the factors that lost him the election. In 2013, Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli lost in part because of his atrocious showing among Latino voters, who were paying attention to his bad policies and insulting comments about immigrants.

In Georgia, where the Senate and gubernatorial races are down to the wire, we may just see a similar story play out.

If candidates don't listen to Latino voters now, they will have to soon. Scapegoating Latinos might seem like a convenient strategy for Republican candidates today, but with Latinos rapidly gaining power at the ballot box, it won't be for long. Just look at California, where Republican governor Pete Wilson pandered to a nativist base with the draconian anti-immigrant Proposition 187, helping him to win reelection in the short term... and turn California deep blue for the foreseeable future.

Georgia's politicians need to pay attention to what Latinos in Georgia are saying -- and the ballot box is one of the clearest places to be heard. And voters will be heard.