This November the Latino vote will once again play a critical role in deciding the fate of the nation. There are six states with a significant number of Latinos (Nevada, California, Colorado, Ohio, Illinois and Florida) that have highly-contested senate or gubernatorial races. Four of these six states are also 'swing states' in presidential years, which make them among the least desirable places where Democrats would want Republicans to begin gaining momentum heading into 2012.
In 2004, George W. Bush secured his second term by winning states like Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Florida. When the Hispanic vote results in these four states is added, John Kerry's margin of victory was approximately 1 percentage point, 50 to 49, and too anemic to offset the GOP's historically strong performance among Whites.
In 2008, the Latino vote's role in deciding the presidency cannot be overstated. After losing the Hispanic vote to Hillary Clinton in nearly every contested state during the 2008 Democratic primaries, the Obama campaign understood and appreciated the significance and political maturity of this voting bloc. The political dividends of the Obama campaign's prudence with Hispanics are clear. Obama defeated McCain among Latinos nationally by 37 points, 68-31; an 18 point improvement from 2004. His 317,000 vote net-gain among Latinos in Florida (2008 vs. 2004) was the driving force behind his victory in the Sunshine State. And his comfortable victory margins among Latinos in Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico offset McCain's lead with whites and put those states in the Democrats' column.
With the national political climate souring today, Democrats can only prevent the widespread losses being forecast by political pundits and the media by mobilizing the key constituencies and voting groups that have helped them achieve widespread victories in the recent past. Given the lessons of 2008 and the six "swing" races previously cited, Latinos should be at the top of that list for 2010.