Could Obamacare Problems Push Latinos to the GOP?

They once loved the health law, but enrollment issues are eroding their support. Republicans are giddy with the thought of snatching up their votes.

Democratic Party workers hand out signs at a celebration marking Mexican Independence Day September 14, 2008 in Denver, Colorado. The Democratic Party is working hard to register Latino voters in Colorado, which will be an important swing state in November's presidential election. 
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Beth Reinhard
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Beth Reinhard
Nov. 7, 2013, 4 p.m.

After two elec­tion cycles of Demo­crats suc­cess­fully mar­ket­ing Obama­care to His­pan­ic voters, the health care law’s rocky start could turn in­to a bar­gain­ing chip for Re­pub­lic­ans.

His­pan­ic adults have sup­por­ted Pres­id­ent Obama’s Af­ford­able Care Act at a rate twice that of whites. More than 10 mil­lion His­pan­ics — roughly one-fourth of the total un­in­sured pop­u­la­tion — stand to be­ne­fit from the law. An out­sized pro­por­tion of the eli­gible His­pan­ics are the healthy mil­len­ni­als who could make or break uni­ver­sal health care.

But wide­spread prob­lems with the en­roll­ment site are hinder­ing His­pan­ics (and every­one else) from sign­ing up for sub­sid­ized in­sur­ance, while the Span­ish-lan­guage web­site has been delayed un­til fur­ther no­tice. In a sur­pris­ing gaffe by an ad­min­is­tra­tion that has put a premi­um on His­pan­ic out­reach, at one point the site geared to­ward His­pan­ics fea­tured pic­tures of Asi­an-Amer­ic­ans.

Add to that news of hun­dreds of thou­sands of people in states with large His­pan­ic pop­u­la­tions re­ceiv­ing can­cel­la­tion no­tices from in­surers, and Re­pub­lic­ans see an av­en­ue to court one of the most sought-after groups of voters.

“This is an open­ing for Re­pub­lic­ans be­cause Latino op­tim­ism about ex­pand­ing health care is start­ing to wane like the rest of the pop­u­la­tion,” said poll­ster Gab­ri­el Sanc­hez, an as­so­ci­ate pro­fess­or of polit­ic­al sci­ence at the Uni­versity of New Mex­ico. “The Re­pub­lic­an strategy of ham­mer­ing at the health care law could work among Lati­nos.”

In­deed, the latest Gal­lup Poll found Obama’s ap­prov­al rat­ing sink­ing 9 points among His­pan­ics in the last week, the sharpest drop of any sub­group. The 49 per­cent ap­prov­al rat­ing is the first time Obama re­gistered be­low the cru­cial 50 per­cent threshold with Lati­nos this year.

In the first pub­licly re­leased sur­vey ana­lyz­ing Obama­care’s im­pact on His­pan­ics since the launch, 34 per­cent said health care costs will get worse un­der the law. The Latino De­cisions poll of 300 His­pan­ic adults in Col­or­ado from Oct. 14-18 also showed slight down­turns in views of the law’s im­pact on the qual­ity of health care and the abil­ity of people to get or keep in­sur­ance.

In­flu­en­cing those neg­at­ive views is Span­ish-lan­guage me­dia, which fre­quently sym­path­izes with the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s goal of im­mig­ra­tion re­form but has been doc­u­ment­ing the health care law’s troubled rol­lout. Uni­vi­sion, for ex­ample, in­ter­viewed a Brook­lyn, N.Y., bakery own­er whose phone num­ber was mis­takenly lis­ted as a con­tact for ACA en­roll­ment.

A lead­ing His­pan­ic crit­ic of the health care law and a po­ten­tial pres­id­en­tial con­tender in 2016, Re­pub­lic­an Sen. Marco Ru­bio of Flor­ida has seized on the delay of the Span­ish-lan­guage web­site.

“His­pan­ics have among the highest un­in­sured rates in the na­tion. Yet des­pite hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars de­voted to a Span­ish-lan­guage pro­pa­ganda cam­paign, the Span­ish-lan­guage Obama­care web­site hasn’t even been launched,” Ru­bio said in a re­cent state­ment. “It’s not fair to pun­ish any­one for not buy­ing Obama­care when the web­site they are sup­posed to buy it on doesn’t work.”

Across the coun­try, His­pan­ic groups have launched massive out­reach pro­grams to beat back wide­spread con­fu­sion about the law. That’s es­pe­cially crit­ic­al while the Span­ish-lan­guage web­site is down, said state Rep. Dar­ren Soto, who rep­res­ents a His­pan­ic-heavy dis­trict near Or­lando, Fla., that over­whelm­ingly favored Obama.

“The web­site needs to be fixed soon­er rather than later,” Soto warned. “The out­reach is crit­ic­al be­cause so many people aren’t watch­ing the news or on the In­ter­net, but you can reach them at a Pu­erto-Ric­an parade or health care fair.”

In Col­or­ado, the ad­vocacy ap­pears to be mak­ing a dif­fer­ence. The Latino De­cisions poll found that 54 per­cent said they were very or some­what in­formed about the new health care law. Few­er than half, 43 per­cent, were un­able to name any of its new policies.

Demo­crat­ic con­sult­ants dis­miss the ar­gu­ment that Re­pub­lic­ans might gain from the health law’s weak rol­lout, point­ing to the GOP-led House’s res­ist­ance to im­mig­ra­tion re­form. “Re­pub­lic­ans have less than zero cred­ib­il­ity with Lati­nos,” said Demo­crat­ic con­sult­ant Maria Car­dona, who spe­cial­izes in the His­pan­ic vote. “As long as they get the web­site fixed, the stature of the Demo­crat­ic Party in the Latino com­munity will be fine.”

Demo­crats are bank­ing on con­tin­ued sup­port from that com­munity in a num­ber of com­pet­it­ive con­gres­sion­al and gubernat­ori­al races next year in Ari­zona, Flor­ida, and Texas. A Septem­ber sur­vey by the Pub­lic Re­li­gion Re­search In­sti­tute found His­pan­ic voters pre­fer­ring Demo­crat­ic con­gres­sion­al can­did­ates by 2-to-1. The sur­vey also found over­whelm­ing sup­port for a path­way to cit­izen­ship for ille-gal im­mig­rants.

“Im­mig­ra­tion policy is clearly the most sa­li­ent is­sue to Latino voters at the mo­ment, so the abil­ity for either Demo­crats or Re­pub­lic­ans to court the Latino elect­or­ate is go­ing to de­pend heav­ily on what hap­pens with com­pre­hens­ive im­mig­ra­tion re­form,” Sanc­hez said. “However, health care has re­mained solidly be­hind only the eco­nomy and im­mig­ra­tion as an im­port­ant is­sue for Latino voters.”

His­pan­ics over­whelm­ingly re­jec­ted Re­pub­lic­an nom­in­ee Mitt Rom­ney, with more than 70 per­cent fa­vor­ing Obama. Rom­ney blamed Obama’s friendly im­mig­ra­tion policy and the health care law. “With His­pan­ic voters, free health care was a big plus,” Rom­ney said last Novem­ber.

But as the Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee ramps up its His­pan­ic out­reach, Obama­care’s prob­lems will be a theme. Along with fum­bling the rol­lout of the health care law, Obama failed to make good on his vow to pass im­mig­ra­tion re­form in his first year in of­fice, and he has de­por­ted a re­cord num­ber of il­leg­al im­mig­rants, said Jen­nifer Korn, an RNC deputy polit­ic­al dir­ect­or.

“For the His­pan­ic com­munity,” she said, “Obama­care is the second ma­jor broken prom­ise.”

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