THE BLOG
10/30/2014 10:38 am ET Updated Dec 30, 2014

Betting Against Latino Voters Is a Bad Move

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It's official. In case there was any doubt left, this election cycle shows that the GOP's hyped-up "rebranding" efforts with Latino voters have been all but abandoned.

Last month, we found out that Virginia GOP congressional candidate Barbara Comstock thinks immigrants should be tracked like FedEx packages. Rep. Steve King from Iowa, who previously shared his belief that most undocumented immigrants are drug runners with "calves the size of cantaloupes," is trying to link immigrants to ISIS and Ebola. And Republican candidates across the country, including Tom Cotton in Arkansas, Scott Brown in New Hampshire, Terri Lynn Land in Michigan, and Pat Roberts in Kansas, are running anti-immigrant ads. "Illegal immigration is threatening our communities," warns one of Roberts' ads.

Not exactly the kind of rhetoric one might expect from a party trying remake its image among voters who care deeply about immigration reform. But far more important than the failed rebranding efforts of an increasingly out-of-touch party is the harm done to real people whose lives are touched by these dehumanizing myths. Ads labeling immigrants a "threat" to other Americans and comments comparing immigrants to objects or rodents don't just go out into the abyss of TV land. They reach - and hurt - real people in communities across America.

Not only is this anti-immigrant bigotry morally wrong, it's also bad politics. Someone may want to tell Republican strategists about the research showing that these ads actually have a reverse effect. According to Latino Decisions, studies have found that "anti-immigrant rhetoric and ads do not mobilize Republican voters, but rather lead to higher turnout among Latino voters who are angered by this campaign strategy."

It's possible that the GOP is making a cold (and ill-advised) calculation that relying on nativist myths about the supposed "threat" of undocumented immigrants will turn out their base in the midterms and that Latino voters will forget all about it by 2016. But I'd imagine that it's pretty hard to forget being called a drug runner or being compared to a FedEx box.

Or maybe Republicans are thinking that they can simply ignore Latino voters in the midterms since their numbers are relatively small in the states with the closest races. But this is also a bad bet. Though Colorado seems to be the only state where the mainstream media is talking about Latino voters, there are actually six states - Alaska, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, and North Carolina - where the polling margin between the Senate candidates is smaller than the percentage of the eligible electorate that is Latino.

And there is a very real possibility that Latino discontent with the GOP could cost them races in these states. For example, new polling this month shows that 77 percent of Latino voters in Colorado either believe that Republicans "don't care too much about Latinos" (37 percent), "take Hispanic voters for granted" (23 percent), or "are being hostile towards Latinos" (17 percent). In North Carolina, the numbers are similar. PFAW has been running Spanish-language ads in these and other key Senate states to make sure that when Republican candidates are spouting anti-immigrant rhetoric or pushing an agenda that harms Latino communities, voters hold them accountable on Election Day.

As Salon's Elias Isquith recently wrote, "The more Republicans attempt to turn anti-immigrant sentiment into a defining issue... the more they prove that the GOP is currently more of a faction than a national party interested in appealing to citizens of all 50 states." The Latino community, both immigrant and non-immigrant, is here to stay, and it's a growing, vibrant part of this country. So if the GOP wants to remain relevant, this so-called national political party has to start thinking about the whole nation and stop demeaning and alienating a large, and rapidly growing, swath of our country.