POLITICS

Latinos Pols Pay Smaller Price for Anti-Immigrant Stance

Florida Sen.-elect Republican Marco Rubio holds a press conference at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, Fla. Wednesday Nov. 3, 2010. Rubio defeated Charlie Crist and Kendrick Meek to retain the seat for the GOP.(AP Photo/Jeffrey M. Boan)

Florida Sen.-elect Republican Marco Rubio holds a press conference at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, Fla. Wednesday Nov. 3, 2010. Rubio defeated Charlie Crist and Kendrick Meek to retain the seat for the GOP.(AP Photo/Jeffrey M. Boan)

Political analysts say Hispanics across the country came out in full force Tuesday to vote against candidates spewing anti-immigrant rhetoric.

But early evidence suggests – though analysts are still crunching numbers – that Hispanic voters seemed slightly more forgiving to the anti-immigration candidates if they had one attribute their political opponent did not: they were Hispanic.

From Florida to Texas to Nevada, Latino voters went to the polls in commanding numbers – many to block candidates they felt were fueling anti-Latino sentiments in their community, according to a recent survey. Latino Decisions, which conducted a survey earlier this week, said 53 percent of Latinos told them the anti-Latino rhetoric was “the most important” factor that influenced them to vote.

Yet, if that candidate they were voting for happened to be Hispanic, some voters were more likely to look the other way.

That’s because their political opponents, who tended to be non-Hispanic, failed to make their positions an issue – either because they were afraid to make a Hispanic appear anti-Latino, or because they assumed they wouldn’t get support from Hispanic voters so they failed to try.

Take for example Florida, where in the senate race an overwhelming number of Hispanics voted for Republican Marco Rubio. The future senator, who won by a decisive margin, received 62 percent of the Latino vote despite adopting tough stances on immigration.

Rubio, the son of Cuban exiles, received heavy support among Cubans, who tend to be more conservative than other Latinos. But more than 40 percent of non-Cuban Latinos backed Rubio – an impressive showing since they lean Democratic . In addition to his strong opposition against illegal immigration, Rubio was against the Dream Act, and supports making English the country’s official language – meaning government forms would only be available in English.

All these positions are unpopular with Hispanics, but Rubio did not pay a heavy political price with Latino voters.

One reason may have been because his political opponents failed to challenge him for the Latino vote.

“What happened with Rubio is he was not challenged on his positions within the Hispanic community…Had that been done I don’t think he would have been able to get that level of support among Hispanics,” said Fernand Amandi, managing partner of Bendixen & Amandi, a Miami polling firm. “The strategic flaw was in underestimating that his positions would have been very offensive to a lot of Hispanics.”

In Nevada, two anti illegal immigration candidates ran on the Republican ticket – with mixed results. Both Brian Sandoval, who will be the incoming governor, and Sharron Angle, who lost a senate bid, lost the Hispanic vote – but Sandoval was able to attract more Latinos than Angle.

He received double the level of support among Latinos than Angle did – 15 percent, according to the Latino Decisions survey. Experts say Sandoval could have received more Hispanic support had it not been for Angle.

Angle’s almost hostile positions on illegal immigration – she spent millions of dollars in ads attacking undocumented immigrants – cut into Sandoval’s Hispanic vote, according to Sylvia Manzano, assistant professor at Texas A & M University.

“It one thing to have a position on something, it’s another thing to make it the central theme of your campaign, like she did,” Manzano said. “I do think she hurt him in the Latino community because her positions were so strong and hostile.”

But analysts say some Latinos were more sympathetic to the anti-immigrant Hispanic candidates for another reason – they understood that as a Hispanic Republican, the candidates were almost forced to take those positions to become more attractive to their own party.

“As a Hispanic Democrat, the trend is for them to tone down any pro-immigration rhetoric so they don’t alienate white voters,” Kenneth Fernández, assistant professor at University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “But if you are a Latino Republican, you are very sensitive in this climate that white voters would say, ‘Oh this person will be soft on immigration.’ So they have come out and been tougher.”

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