Republican presidential candidates’ heated rhetoric on undocumented immigrants is giving President Obama a huge lead among Hispanic voters.
That’s the conclusion of a new poll conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center. The survey reveals the president ahead of Republican contenders by a wider margin among Hispanic voters than the 67 percent to 31 percent by which he led John McCain in 2008.
Hispanics are supporting Mr. Obama in large numbers despite their disapproval by 59 percent to 27 percent of his administration’s stepped up deportations of unauthorized immigrants. Deportations of undocumented immigrants has averaged nearly 400,000 annually since 2009, roughly 30 percent above the annual average of the second term of George W. Bush and about double the yearly average of Bush’s first four years.
The Obama administration’s zealous deportation policy, coupled with the struggling economy which hits minorities the hardest, ought to give the GOP an opening in pursuing the Hispanic vote. Yet the Pew poll shows the president leading Mitt Romney 68 percent to 23 percent among registered Hispanics and ahead of Rick Perry by 69 percent to 23 percent. (The survey did not include other candidates; presumably Newt Gingrich would score better, since he has suggested that undocumented workers who have been in the United States many years and who have deep roots should be allowed to stay.)
The Pew poll confirms the fears of some Republican leaders who worry that Romney’s sharp attacks on unauthorized immigration will further erode the GOP’s weak appeal among Hispanics. The Washington Post recently reported that one Republican-leaning organization, the Hispanic Leadership Fund, is so angry with Romney that it might withhold endorsing him if he becomes the party’s nominee.
Immigration is one issue on which Romney has been able to get to the right of his opponents in the Republican primary battle. He has attacked Gingrich for suggesting some undocumented immigrants should be allowed to stay, and he has criticized Perry for Texas’s policy of allowing children of unauthorized immigrants to pay instate college tuition.
It’s probably good politics for Romney and other Republican contenders to strike a tough stance on immigration in the caucuses and primaries. But a quick glance at the electoral map shows the folly of such a policy in the general election.
John Kerry won 252 electoral votes (18 shy of victory) in 2004 by carrying the traditional Democratic strongholds of the West Coast, the Northeast the industrial upper Midwest. Add to that number 60 votes from Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Florida, which have large and growing Hispanic minorities, and it’s hard to see how a Republican can beat President Obama.
Candidate Obama carried Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, and Florida in 2008. Add those four states, even without Arizona, to Kerry’s vote in 2004 and the president receives 301 electoral votes, enough of a cushion to sustain the loss of votes in the upper Midwest. And all this math ignores President Obama’s chances in other states not carried by Kerry in 2004 but won by Obama in 2008.
George Bush won about 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004. With Mitt Romney as its candidate, the Republican Party will be hard pressed to duplicate that number in 2012. Yet anything significantly short of that slice of the Hispanic vote may well doom the GOP in such key battleground states as Florida and Colorado, insuring President Obama’s reelection.