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Government & Politics

Conference Examines Latinos and the 2012 Elections

By Mike Unger

Photo: Ruy Teixeira

Ruy Teixeira, senior fellow at the Century Foundation and the Center for American Progress. (Photo: Jeff Watts)

Latinos played a critical role in the election of Barack Obama to the White House. If he’s to win a second term, the president must once again gain their support.

The increasing importance of Latino voters was consistently cited at American University’s February 13 conference, “Latinos and the 2012 Elections.”

Take aways from keynote speaker Ruy Teixeira, senior fellow at the Century Foundation and the Center for American Progress, included:

  • The Latino vote will be crucial in 2012.
  • The anti-immigration tenor of the Republican Party is pushing Latinos into the arms of Obama.

“I think that’s the reason why, despite the economy [being] in the toilet and Latinos not doing well, they’ll still support Obama."

  • In 2008 Latinos backed Obama 67 to 31 percent; that was part of an overall 80 to 20 margin he carried with all minorities.

“If Obama can get 75 percent of minority voters in 2012, Obama will win the election with a very substantial decline in the white vote”

  • The percentage of minority voters has increased in Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico; if Obama takes all three states he should be able to withstand a loss in Ohio.

“That is a real safety valve for his campaign.”

First Latino as Republican Running Mate?

In a panel moderated by Jordan Fabian of UNIVISION the possibility of Florida senator Marco Rubio as a running mate for the Republican nominee was on the minds of many. He would be the first Latino candidate for national office.

“We have polled extensively on Marco Rubio in the past few months,” said Gary Segura, chair of Chicano/a Studies at Stanford University. “He polls very poorly outside of Florida largely because most Latinos have no idea who he is.”

Despite that, Teixeira considers the 40-year-old to be a real contender in the No. 2 sweepstakes because:

  • “Just for Florida, I could see them putting him on the ticket for that. Florida is more important to the Republicans than it is to the Democrats. I don’t think they can win without winning Florida.”
  • The Latino electorate is changing in the Sunshine State. The percentage of Cuban voters is decreasing, while the number of Puerto Ricans, especially along the I-4 corridor that runs through Orlando, is growing.

Latino’s Enthusiasm for Obama Is Key

Matt Barreto, political science professor at the University of Washington and director of the Washington Institute for the Study of Ethnicity and Race noted: With 2 million Latinos being added to the voting rolls every two years, the group promises to remain an important voting bloc well beyond 2012.

“At what rate are Latinos going to be engaged in this election, not just as voters, but in terms of donors and mobilizers? At this point in 2008 there was massive mobilization of Latino voters in the Democratic primaries.”

According to Clarissa Martinez-De-Castro, director of Immigration and National Campaigns for the National Council of La Raza:

  • “A majority of Latinos continue to mark in the Democrats’ column, thanks in large part to the Republicans. How soon will Republicans start pivoting to bring them to the Republican Party?”

The event was cosponsored by the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies, the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies, and the Women and Politics Institute.