Commentary: Hispanic voter turnout will be key to election

The Miami HeraldNovember 1, 2012 


Andres Oppenheimer is a columnist for The Miami Herald.

AL DIAZ — MCT/Miami Herald

President Barack Obama may be wrong on many issues, but he is right on this one: he may win the election because Republicans have totally alienated Hispanic voters.

In a planned off-the-record interview with the Des Moines Register that was made public last week, Obama said, “Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community.”

As was to be expected, Republican candidate Gov. Mitt Romney’s campaign immediately responded that Obama is taking the Latino community for granted, and reminding Hispanics that Obama has not met his promise to pass an immigration reform during his first term.

Yet, a dispassionate look at the record shows that Romney has tilted so far to the right on immigration, taxes, health care and other issues that are dear to Hispanics, that even former Republican hopeful Newt Gingrich accused Romney during the primaries of being “anti-immigrant.”

According to the latest polls, Romney may be the Republican candidate who will get the smallest percentage of Latino votes in recent history.

An NBC/Telemundo/Wall Street Journal poll released last week shows that Obama leads Romney by a whopping 70-25 percent among Latino voters nationwide. Another poll by Latino Decisions shows Obama ahead by 70 to 21 percent of the Latino vote.

If Romney gets less than 25 percent of the Hispanic vote, it will be the worst performance of any Republican candidate since 1996. Republican candidate George W. Bush got 35 percent of the Latino vote in 2000 and 40 percent in 2004, while former Republican candidate Sen. John McCain got 31 percent of the Latino vote in 2008.

It doesn’t take a political scientist to explain why Romney is so unpopular among Hispanics. He earned it all by himself.

In his much-publicized comments during a May fundraiser that was secretly taped and made public recently, Romney said that 47 percent of Americans will vote for Obama “no matter what,” because they “are dependent upon government,” and “believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.” Romney added, “[M]y job is not to worry about those people.”

It so happens that a huge percentage of Latino voters come from immigrant families that couldn’t have risen to the middle class without government help to pay for their health care and education. When Romney said his job was not to worry about the 47 percent that depend on government aid, Latinos felt he was talking about them.

Although in recent weeks he has tried to downplay his hard-line stands on immigration, without walking away from them, Romney said during the primaries that Arizona’s draconian anti-immigration law should be a model for the nation. Many Latinos feel that the Arizona law, which allows local police to act as immigration officers, would lead to police harassment of all Hispanics, regardless of their legal status.

Romney also said earlier this year that he would veto the DREAM Act, which would give a path to citizenship to up to 1.7 million immigrant students who were raised in this country. Also during the primaries, Romney called for the “self-deportation” of nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants. Translation: make the life of undocumented immigrants so difficult that they will have little choice but to return home voluntarily. Most Latinos fear that strategy would lead to racial profiling, and directly or indirectly affect all Hispanics.

Perhaps most damning to Romney was his tone and demeanor when referring to Latino immigrants. Even after the primaries, Romney kept using the term “illegal aliens,” which most Latinos see as a dehumanizing label aimed at justifying extreme anti-immigration measures.

My opinion: Obama is right in that Romney has alienated the biggest minority in this country in his quest for right wing Republican support. But the key factor will be whether Latinos are motivated enough to turn out on Election Day.

The Romney strategy in the final days before the election will be to try to soften Latino voters’ enthusiasm for Obama, reminding them of the country’s bad economic figures, so that they stay at home on Nov. 6.

The NBC/Telemundo/Wall Street Journal poll shows that 68 percent of Latinos are enthusiastic enough to vote, which is below the 76 percent the same poll of Latino voters reported before the 2008 election.

Obama doesn’t have to do much to convince Latinos to like him, because Romney has already done that work for him. The big question is whether Latinos will go out and vote on Election Day.

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