In the end, perhaps as much as anything else, it was GOP negligence that gave last year’s Democratic nominee a phenomenal 14-percentage-point jump in Latino support compared with 2004. While John Kerry won 53% of the Latino vote in 2004, Obama captured 67% four years later. In California and Nevada, Obama’s numbers were 74% and 76%, respectively. And according to a recent Gallup poll, Latino voters aren’t suffering from buyer’s remorse: Obama has an 85% approval rating among Latinos.
Paradoxically, it might be that such lopsided support means there will not be a Latino nominated to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter. It’s one thing to put U.S. Appeals Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor, a New Yorker and the daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants, on the short list. But without solid Republican competition for Latino votes, the pressure to actually name her is minimal. (Besides, the White House is no doubt aware that Puerto Ricans make up less than 10% of the U.S. Latino population and, if Obama is looking for gains in that demographic, such a selection would have little political resonance in Western battleground states and among the two-thirds of Latinos who are of Mexican origin.)
All this adds up to Democratic complacency vis-a-vis Latino voters (and probably no Latino nominee). Democrats have other constituencies — generally more sophisticated, monied and politically savvy — to tend to.