With the Supreme Court likely to uphold portions of Arizona's infamous immigration law, the state will remain front and center in national headlines up until this year’s general election. While Hispanic voters in the state have no control over the Supreme Court’s decision, they will be able to have their voices heard at the Arizona ballot box in November.
The Obama campaign certainly believes that the agitation of Hispanic and independent voters in Arizona puts the state in play for the general election. Historical evidence and recent polling indicate that the states may well be up for grabs this year. Putting Arizona's 11 electoral votes in play would not only shake up the electoral map but also send a clear message that extremist immigration laws are political poison.
In 2008 – with minimal investment from the Obama Campaign – the President commanded a large share of the Hispanic vote in Arizona, besting hometown Senator John McCain 56% to 41%. If the President can boost Hispanic turnout, the statewide electorate could become much more Democratic. With recent polling showing Arizona as a toss-up, a solid investment in Hispanic mobilization could make the state very competitive.
The real question on everyone's mind is; can an investment in maximizing the Hispanic vote in Arizona generate enough support to push Obama and down ticket Democrats over the top?
A recent NBC News/Marist Poll reveals that President Obama is only trailing in Arizona by 5 points. The real eye-popping numbers for the President, however, are the preferences of independent voters. Among independents in Arizona, the President outperforms Romney 45 percent to 36 percent, with 19 percent undecided. Another poll by the Merrill/Morrison Institute puts the race within the margin of error. 42 percent of Arizona registered voters preferred Mitt Romney, while 40 percent supported the President. With a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percent, so if the election were held today the contest for Arizona’s 11 electoral votes would be a toss-up.
The real question on everyone's mind is; can an investment in maximizing the Hispanic vote in Arizona generate enough support to push Obama and down ticket Democrats over the top? Trends in Hispanic turnout from neighboring states with similar demographics suggest that these investments could pay off. Significant efforts to boost turnout in 2008 resulted in substantial increases in Hispanic voter participation. Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada saw Hispanic voter participation increase by 33 percent, 62 percent and 32 percent respectively from 2004 to 2008. The overwhelming majority of that increased Hispanic vote went to Obama. The growing voter turnout from Hispanics helped the President carry all three of those states on his way to the White House, and this same dynamic could bring Arizona into the fold later this year.
Hispanics nationally are breaking nearly three to one for the President, if this holds true in Arizona increasing the vote of this population could swing the general election vote for more moderate voices in Arizona as well. For the first time ever there is viable Hispanic Senatorial candidate in former Surgeon General Richard Carmona.
Carmona, a military veteran, has a huge lead with Hispanic voters. Politico notes that Hispanic voters favor him 61% – 25% percent statewide. Hispanic women are even more supportive, giving him a 70% – 14% advantage over Flake. At this point in the race he is an unknown quantity. Just 22 percent of voters can identify Richard Carmona, including just 19 percent of white voters, giving him room to expand support. The reality is the more Carmona is able to galvanize Hispanic support in Arizona the better off the Obama campaign will do in the state.
If any segment of the Arizona population should want to change the dynamic of the state’s political apparatus it would be Hispanics. The current political environment in Arizona is toxic for Hispanics, and has been hijacked by political extremists. For those in the state vested in sending a strong message to the country that Arizona is turning a corner on this brand of governance, voting against the likes of Jan Brewer, Joe Arpaio, and Russell Pearce would speak loud and clear. With the Supreme Court likely to uphold parts of SB1070, November will be the earliest that Arizona voters can let the country know where they truly stand on this law.
Kristian Ramos is Policy Director, 21st Century Border Initiative, at NDN and The New Policy Initiative.