Hispanic political leaders, some Republican and some not, spent the last two weeks assessing and arguing over the Republican Party's failure at the polls on November 4. A key lesson of the election, many declared, is that the Hispanic vote is increasing in strength and will be crucial for any party, be they Republican or Democrat, that desires to win the top national offices. For some Republican leaders, that is a cause for worry.
The Power Of The Hispanic Vote
In the 2008 national election, Hispanic votes climbed to 9 percent of the total votes cast, up from 8 percent in 2004, according to exit polls by Edison Media Research posted on CNN's Web site. That number remains below the actual share of the population that is Hispanic -- 15 percent -- but political analysts of all stripes recognize that the Hispanic vote is no longer a sleeping giant. That giant is awakening.
Despite the long-standing ties of Republican candidate John McCain to the Hispanic community of his home state of Arizona and his moderate approach to immigration reform, the Hispanic electorate heavily favored Sen. Barack Obama and his focus on "change." The Hispanic vote broke more than 2 to 1 in favor of Sen. Obama, with the president elect grabbing 67 percent to Sen. John McCain's 31 percent. Obama gained a sizable competitive advantage from the Hispanic vote.
Erica Bernal, director of political participation for NALEO, the National Associate of Latino Elected Officials, declared that the Latino vote had a significant impact in "reshaping the political map" by helping to decide the outcome of several key battleground states carried by President Bush in 2004. Bernal noted that "in Colorado, Florida New Mexico, Nevada and even Virginia the Latino vote helped Democrats put these states in the 'win' column." The Hispanic vote probably also flipped the state of Indiana from Republican red to Democratic blue, exit poll numbers suggest.
A Swing Vote?
Republican commentators are at pains to point out that the Hispanic vote this election was not a strictly partisan affair. It was driven by issues, the economy, and a dissatisfaction with the Republican brand. Neither party has a sure and steadfast grip on the loyalties of the Hispanic public.
For Frank Guerra, Hispanic media adviser for the McCain campaign, the Hispanic voter "is not an absolute party loyalist." The 2008 election offers strong evidence for Mr. Guerra's observation. Hispanics significantly shifted their preferences from the 2004 election. From 40-44 percent Hispanic support for the Republican candidate President George W. Bush in 2004, there was a 12 percent jump in favor of the Democrats this year.
"It's a very fluid population," Mr. Guerra said, "and it should be."
"Historically, upwards of 25 percent of Hispanics remain largely undecided going into an election day. And that's not because they are disinterested, it's because they are discerning. They are really trying to make the right decision. "
Mr. Guerra counts that as good news for Republicans. With the Hispanic voter not tied down by fixed party allegiances, the Republicans have a chance again in 2012 to recapture that vote.
But in addition, being a swing vote means the Hispanic community has increased leverage. Both sides have started campaigning and catering to the Hispanic population. In fact, said Mr. Guerra, "the Republicans going after the Hispanic vote did more to increase Hispanic power then almost anything else that has happened in the last 50 years."
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