11/10/2014 06:11 pm ET Updated Jan 10, 2015

Increasing Latino Vote Spells Trouble for Republican Candidates in 2016

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While Democrats took a beating in last week's election, progressives should be wary of writing off the party's path toward building political power by building a diverse coalition that reflects the changing face of America.

In particular, the final results of 2014 shouldn't obscure the growing power of Latino voters in America: Polling shows that Latino voters represented a rare bright spot in an otherwise bleak election cycle, and demographics make clear that Latino voting power will only increase in coming years.

Even as Democrats lost support among white voters, exit polling shows Latinos were more likely to support Democrats than during 2010. Just as importantly, according to NALEO, the share of the electorate made up by Latino voters was up slightly over 2010 levels. In key states, Latinos broke strongly in favor of Democratic candidates, favoring Democrat Mark Udall by a margin of 71-23, Michele Nunn 70-28 and Kay Hagen 63-33, according to Latino Decisions polling. Latino support for these candidates wasn't enough to push them over the top, but without Latino voters all three races would have been out of reach entirely.

That support didn't materialize out of thin air: It's the result of Democrats' support of progressive positions held by the Latino community, Republicans' unrelenting attacks and a concerted outreach throughout the election cycle to ensure that Latinos were consistently and meaningfully engaged -- including ads run by People For the American Way in states including Colorado, Georgia, and North Carolina.

Moreover, the power of the Latino vote is growing fast -- and likely to continue to grow in coming years. In Georgia, the number of registered Latino voters grew 438 percent since 2000. In Kansas, where PFAW launched a first of its kind direct mail program targeting Latino voters this year, registered Latino voter share grew 575 percent in the same period.

And while most critical races this year took places in states where the Latino population wasn't yet large enough to provide the margin of victory, 2016 provides a different -- and more favorable -- map. Among the most important battleground states are several where Latinos make up a sizable part of the state's population, including Nevada (27%), Florida (23%), and Colorado (21%.) In addition, other critical battlegrounds have Latino populations large enough to swing an election, including Virginia (8%) North Carolina (9%) Pennsylvania (6%) and Wisconsin (6%.)

Taken together, these numbers show that reaching out to Latinos can have a powerful impact on future contests.

As we parse the results, it's critical that we learn the right lessons. Before last Tuesday's election, too many progressives thought that demographics alone were political destiny. After the elections, too many claimed that reaching out to people of color can't make the difference without Obama on the ballot.

There are few bright spots for Democrats in last week's elections, but the potential power of the Latino vote, given the proper resources and respect, remains a critical ingredient in future victories.