Immigration: Losing Issue For GOP Out West
Talking tough on immigration may have boosted GOP prospects in predominantly white states and districts, but it looks to have backfired in a big way in the West and the Southwest.
A shocking statistic from last night: Despite the massive Republican gains in the House, it looks like the GOP won't net a single seat from the West Coast and Pacific Rim states. And they underperformed dramatically in Hispanic-rich Southwest states, losing an Albuquerque House seat that looked awfully winnable, an Arizona seat where the GOP candidate ran aggressively on immigration and barely held onto a suburban Las Vegas seat that looked safely in their hands.
The exit polls tell a remarkable tale for why the GOP gains crested out West: Hispanic voters showed up in a big way and overwhelmingly cast the ballots for Democrats, according to exit polling. Latinos made up 18 percent of the electorate in Nevada, exactly the same number as in 2008, despite some polls suggesting Latinos weren't enthused about this election -- and voted 68 percent for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D). Republican Sharron Angle's crude imaging of Latinos as illegal law-breakers likely played a significant role.
In California, the turnout was even more incredible -- 22 percent of the electorate was Hispanic, a higher share than in 2008. And they broke as heavily for Democrats -- 64 percent backed Democrat Jerry Brown and 65 percent for Sen. Barbara Boxer (D).
The leading illegal immigration restrictionist on the ballot, former Rep. Tom Tancredo, only managed 37 percent of the vote in the Colorado gubernatorial contest -- despite becoming the de facto GOP nominee.
Susana Martinez (R) was able to capitalize on Hispanic support to win New Mexico's governorship, but she underperformed GOP expectations in Bernalillo County (Albuquerque), costing the GOP the chance to defeat Rep. Martin Heinrich with a Latino Republican running (Jon Barela).
Even in Arizona, the focus of the anti-illegal immigration sentiment, Latinos strongly opposed Sen. John McCain (R), who became a born-again seal-the-borders politician this election. A 57 percent majority backed his Democratic opponent, Rodney Glassman. And a whopping 71 percent voted against Gov. Jan Brewer, the author of tough immigration laws in her home states. And a boost in Latino turnout looks like it saved Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who called on Americans to boycott his home state, and protected Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.). whose opponent focused on cracking down on immigration as a central plank in a business-friendly district.
That's a clear warning to Republicans for 2012: Immigration may be a winning issue nationally but in key battlegrounds for the next presidential election, they'll need to perform better among Hispanics or they could risk becoming irrelevant out West.