Politics: White House

Obama: Nothing is Agreed To Until Everything is Agreed To

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July 7, 2011, 9:23 a.m.

Not only did the NR­SC have to pull down its WV ad, thanks to a tacky and in­sult­ing de­pic­tion of “hicks,” the ad even got WV beer wrong. A Dem source points out one of the men sit­ting at the diner ap­pears to be wear­ing a Hamm’s Premi­um hat. Hamm’s, it ap­pears, isn’t sold in WV. Oops.

If there was any doubt about the im­port­ance of the His­pan­ic vote this elec­tion year, Pres­id­ent Obama laid it to rest with his re­cent, ag­gress­ive court­ship of Latino voters. But this month also provided fresh warn­ings to the Obama cam­paign that His­pan­ic voters, des­pite their grow­ing num­bers, aren’t all that in­ter­ested in turn­ing out to vote.

The evid­ence can be drawn from the House primar­ies that took place in states with sig­ni­fic­ant His­pan­ic pop­u­la­tions over the last month, par­tic­u­larly Cali­for­nia, New York, and Texas. In con­tests from South­ern Cali­for­nia to Span­ish Har­lem, His­pan­ic can­did­ates suffered polit­ic­al dis­ap­point­ments be­cause of low turnout from their own voters.

The biggest set­back for His­pan­ic rep­res­ent­a­tion took place in Texas, where Lati­nos fueled the pop­u­la­tion growth in the state over the last dec­ade. But it’s un­likely they will gain more seats in Con­gress even with four new con­gres­sion­al dis­tricts. While 38 per­cent of Texas voters are His­pan­ic, it’s likely that only six of the state’s 36 House dis­tricts (17 per­cent) will be rep­res­en­ted by a His­pan­ic mem­ber of Con­gress in 2013.

In the state’s primar­ies, sev­er­al His­pan­ic can­did­ates suffered sev­er­al sting­ing de­feats, largely be­cause of low levels of Latino par­ti­cip­a­tion. Their most not­able set­back took place in a new Fort Worth-area seat spe­cific­ally drawn to elect a minor­ity mem­ber of Con­gress. But former state Rep. Domin­go Gar­cia, a Demo­crat, wasn’t able to take ad­vant­age of the dis­trict’s siz­able His­pan­ic pop­u­la­tion, which makes up nearly two-thirds of the dis­trict (and 39 per­cent of its vot­ing-age pop­u­la­tion) and fin­ished 12 points be­hind Demo­crat­ic state Rep. Marc Vea­sey, who is Afric­an-Amer­ic­an. Only about 18,000 re­gistered Demo­crats showed up to vote, an an­em­ic turnout level far be­low the rates in oth­er dis­tricts fea­tur­ing com­pet­it­ive Demo­crat­ic primar­ies. Gar­cia is the heavy un­der­dog in the Ju­ly 31 run­off.

At least Demo­crats could take solace that the seat will re­main in their hands. But in Cali­for­nia, the party took a ma­jor hit when its favored can­did­ate in a 49.4 per­cent-Latino battle­ground dis­trict didn’t even qual­i­fy for the bal­lot. Red­lands May­or Pete Aguilar was one of the party’s bright­est re­cruits, and looked like an early fa­vor­ite against Re­pub­lic­ans Rep. Gary Miller (who didn’t live in the dis­trict he was run­ning in) and state Sen. Bob Dut­ton. But turnout in the dis­trict’s fast-grow­ing His­pan­ic core was an­em­ic, and Aguilar didn’t even qual­i­fy for the gen­er­al elec­tion bal­lot, fin­ish­ing in third place in the all-party primary. This, in a dis­trict Obama car­ried with over 55 per­cent of the vote.

In an­oth­er cau­tion­ary note for the Obama cam­paign, im­mig­ra­tion was a ma­jor di­vid­ing line in the elec­tion, but it didn’t push His­pan­ic voters to the polls. Aguilar cam­paigned on a com­pre­hens­ive im­mig­ra­tion re­form that would cre­ate a path to cit­izen­ship for some il­leg­al im­mig­rants. Miller, mean­while, is one of the lead­ing im­mig­ra­tion re­stric­tion­ists in Con­gress, and re­cently sponsored le­gis­la­tion that would end birth­right cit­izen­ship for chil­dren of il­leg­al im­mig­rants born in the U.S. Des­pite so much at stake for His­pan­ic voters, they didn’t show up.

Demo­crat­ic op­er­at­ives were blind­sided by the res­ults, an­ti­cip­at­ing much bet­ter His­pan­ic turnout to com­fort­ably push Aguilar to face off against a Re­pub­lic­an in Novem­ber. Now Re­pub­lic­ans are guar­an­teed to hold the seat in Novem­ber.

“We clearly have to do a much bet­ter job reach­ing out to His­pan­ics to get them to vote,” Aguilar said in an in­ter­view. “We put to­geth­er a de­cent field pro­gram, but it ap­pears from the data we’ve seen, the pre­cincts that were more His­pan­ic were not as likely to get to the polls.”

The latest sign that His­pan­ic voters’ clout may not match their num­bers took place Tues­day night in New York City, where Rep. Charles Ran­gel, D-N.Y., com­fort­ably de­feated His­pan­ic state Sen. Ad­ri­ano Es­pail­lat. Es­pail­lat entered the race against Ran­gel  in hopes of cap­it­al­iz­ing on the demo­graph­ic change in the dis­trict — it’s 55 per­cent His­pan­ic after re­dis­trict­ing — and cam­paigned mainly in His­pan­ic areas. Es­pail­lat looked like a for­mid­able con­tender against the eth­ic­ally-em­battled con­gress­man. But Ran­gel’s vic­tory — he was lead­ing by five points as of press­time — showed that a shared eth­nic back­ground isn’t enough to turn voters out to the polls.

However, the early ex­pect­a­tions for Es­pail­lat have been tempered by the real­ity that a shared eth­nic back­ground isn’t ne­ces­sar­ily enough to turn voters out to the polls.

To be sure, you can’t read too much from the primary turnout num­bers. Voter turnout can be no­tori­ously low in primar­ies, and in­creases sig­ni­fic­antly for Novem­ber. And so far, the primar­ies oc­curred in states where the pres­id­en­tial race isn’t ex­pec­ted to be com­pet­it­ive.

But there are a num­ber of pivotal con­gres­sion­al races that are tak­ing place in battle­ground states, where the dif­fer­ence between win­ning and los­ing de­pends on the level of His­pan­ic turnout and wheth­er they over­whelm­ingly sup­port the Demo­crat­ic can­did­ate. Obama’s get-out-the-vote ma­chine will be act­ive in all these areas, and its ef­fect­ive­ness will be crit­ic­al for his own pro­spects.

In sub­urb­an Las Ve­gas, GOP fresh­man Rep. Joe Heck is fa­cing His­pan­ic state As­sembly Speak­er John Oce­guera, a Demo­crat, in a dis­trict where His­pan­ics make up 13 per­cent of the vot­ing-age pop­u­la­tion. In Col­or­ado, Demo­crats are bullish on their chances of de­feat­ing Re­pub­lic­an Reps. Mike Coff­man (who re­cently apo­lo­gized for say­ing Obama was not Amer­ic­an “in his heart”) and Scott Tipton and need strong His­pan­ic turnout to win.

Mean­while, Rep. Al­len West, R-Fla., moved up the coast to run in one of the coun­try’s biggest battle­ground dis­tricts, which voted for both Obama and Re­pub­lic­an Flor­ida Gov. Rick Scott. He’s fa­cing Demo­crat Patrick Murphy in a dis­trict where 12 per­cent of vot­ing-age res­id­ents are His­pan­ic. This dis­trict about as close to a bell­weth­er as they come: If Obama wins the dis­trict, it’s a good sign for his reelec­tion.

These races high­light some op­por­tun­it­ies for Demo­crats to win back seats, demon­strat­ing how His­pan­ic growth can change the polit­ic­al map. But the primary res­ults of­fer the op­pos­ite side of the coin, and should serve as a cau­tion­ary tale for Demo­crats who be­lieve that the grow­ing His­pan­ic vote, by it­self, is enough to be a game-changer.

Scott Bland con­trib­uted 

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