After Tuesday’s presidential election, Latinos now enjoy a new status as power players in U.S. politics.
President Obama defeated Mitt Romney in large measure because he won 71 percent of the Latino vote, in a year when Latinos made American history by reaching a landmark 10 percent of the nation’s voters.
According to exit polls, Mitt Romney lost their vote to Obama by 44 points, 71 percent to 27 percent. This is an unprecedented margin of defeat for Republicans among the fastest growing segment of American voters, Latinos. It is a scream for hard-line conservatives to reconsider their stand on immigration reform and Arizona’s new law giving police the right to ask anyone for their immigration papers.
One Republican who understood this early on was the man Mitt Romney almost picked as his vice presidential running mate, Florida Senator Marco Rubio.
If I had to pick one quote that perfectly captures why the Republicans lost the Latino vote in Tuesday’s election so decisively, I would pick something Senator Rubio told to me in an exclusive interview for Fox News Latino this past April.
When I asked Rubio why the GOP’s economic message didn’t seem to be resonating with Latinos who faced disproportionately high levels of unemployment, poverty and foreclosure during the Obama presidency, the Freshman Tea Party Senator told me candidly “It’s very hard to make the economic argument to people who think you want to deport their grandmother.”
It is far from clear that having Rubio as the vice presidential nominee would have stopped Romney from losing the Latino vote. But if Rubio’s advice been heeded and had Republicans been more quick to embrace his alternative DREAM Act proposal, they would not have had such a decisive loss could have been averted.
President Obama delivered a similar message when he told the Des Moines Register just before the election: “A big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community.”
“For the first time in U.S. history, the Latino vote can plausibly claim to be nationally decisive,” Stanford University professor Gary Segura said on Election Night.
Professor Segura calculates the Latino vote provided Obama with 5.4 percent of his margin over Romney essentially delivering a victory in the popular vote for him. Segura also calculates that if Romney had garnered just 35 percent of the Latino vote, he could have won the election.
In Florida, Virginia, Colorado and Nevada there is no question, based on exit poll surveys, that Latinos made the difference for the President.
Latinos increased their percentage of the electorate from 9 percent in 2008 to 10 percent in this race. In Florida, for example, the number of Hispanics in the state grew by nearly 200,000 in the last four years. Nationwide, four million more registered Latino voters have been added to the polls in the last four years.
In 2008 Latino voters nationwide gave Obama 67 percent of their vote and they upped that in this election to 71 percent.
The first step for the GOP is to avoid falling into the trap of thinking of the Latino vote as monolithic. According to the 2010 census, the U.S. Hispanic population is comprised of 63 percent Mexicans, 9.2 Puerto Ricans, 3.5 Cubans like Rubio and 3.3 Salvadorans.
Aside from Rubio, the only prominent national Republican Latino figures are Governors Susana Martinez of New Mexico and Brian Sandoval of Nevada – both of whom delivered powerful speeches at the GOP convention in Tampa. Senator-elect Ted Cruz of Texas is another strong candidate to lead GOP outreach to Hispanics.
The Democrats also have a deep bench of charismatic Latino officials. They include the 2012 DNC keynote speaker, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaragosia, Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez and California Congressman and Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra.
And the Democrats are glad to point out that the far right of the GOP has not been welcoming to Hispanics. During the GOP primaries, for example, Romney pushed to impress conservatives by calling for “self-deportation” of illegal immigrants. He seemed to be harsh with the immigrant community to prove his conservative credentials to the conservative base of the party.
Romney even pledged to veto the DREAM Act which provided citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants who enroll in college or enlist in the military. He called the Arizona “papers please” anti-illegal immigration law, SB 1070, a “model for the nation.”
Romney made a conscious decision to align himself with the nation’s most vocal exponents of tough immigration policies. Having Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, former California Gov. Pete Wilson and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach squarely in his corner was enough to keep many Latinos away.
Latinos got tremendous attention this election cycle because their numbers had simply grown too large to ignore. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the U.S. Hispanic Population is now over 50 million strong.
If the GOP continues down this path, it will cease to be an electorally viable political party. They need to start listening to Sen. Rubio.
Juan Williams currently serves as a co-host of FOX News Channel's (FNC) "The Five" (weekdays, 9-10PM/ET) and also appears as a political analyst on "FOX News Sunday with Chris Wallace" and "Special Report with Bret Baier."