Both parties and both Presidential candidates have focused intently on the growing Hispanic demographic in the US in hopes of either maintaining an edge (Barack Obama) or eroding it (Mitt Romney). Both candidates addressed the NALEO conference this month, and both regularly run Spanish-language ads to woo these voters in the Southwest and in Florida. But will it make that much of a difference? National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar looks at turnout data from primaries in these areas and concludes that the Hispanic vote may be significantly overrated:
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.
In Texas, the failure could possibly be chalked up to a lack of enthusiasm among Democratic Hispanics in an overwhelmingly Republican state. But what’s the explanation for California, where Democrats control every statewide office and both chambers of the legislature?
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.
This was the embarrassing outcome of the electoral “reform” pushed by California Democrats a couple of years ago — the open primary. Instead of two primaries, one for each party, each office now only gets one, and everyone votes in it. The top two vote-getters proceed to the general election. Democrats insisted that having independents participating in the open primaries would produce more moderate candidates, but most figured that it would lock Republicans out of certain House districts. Instead, the too-cute-by-half effort doomed Aguilar and will put one of two Republicans in this seat instead.
Aguilar, as Kraushaar notes, ran explicitly on immigration reform in this race. It still didn’t produce the kind of Hispanic-voter turnout envisaged by Democrats. That should be a warning flare to Obama and the Democrats, who have tried to change the subject from jobs and the economy this month with Obama’s executive action to temporarily provide work permits to illegal immigrants rather than prosecute them. If that isn’t generating turnout in House primaries for Hispanic candidates, it’s not going to do much in November for Obama, either.