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February 1, 2015

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Hispanic loyalty to Democrats wanes

Inaction on immigration reform has key voting bloc less enthused about election


Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Activists gather outside the Lloyd George Federal Building in a protest for immigration reform Saturday, April 10, 2010.

Immigration Reform Rally

Members and supporters of Laborers' International Union North America carry flags of different nations at a rally for immigration reform Saturday, April 10, 2010 outside the Lloyd George Federal Building. Launch slideshow »

Nevada Democrats have a huge problem this fall.

No, it’s not the bad economy that has voters in a sour, anti-incumbent mood. Or the poor approval numbers of the Reid family, the father-son duo of Harry and Rory who are atop the Democratic ticket as candidates for Senate and governor, respectively. And no, it’s not that Republicans have found their legs with the help of the enthusiastic Tea Party movement.

Those are all bad enough, but they’ve got another problem: Hispanic voters are tired of Democrats not delivering on their promises.

Matt Barreto, a University of Washington political scientist and consultant with the firm Latino Decisions, points to recent polling that should scare the daylights out of Democrats.

“The number of Latinos who say they are enthusiastic about midterm elections is the lowest we’ve ever seen,” said Barreto, whose firm polls extensively among Hispanics. In 2006, 77 percent of Hispanics were excited about voting. In a recent poll, however, just 49 percent were excited.

As Barreto noted, midterm elections usually feature lower turnout, which means victory hinges on energizing the party’s core supporters rather than persuading swing voters.

For Democrats, Hispanics are an important part of that base, especially in Nevada.

President Barack Obama won Nevada Hispanic voters by a 3-1 margin in 2008 while also pushing up their turnout considerably — Hispanic voters comprised 15 percent of the Nevada electorate, compared with 10 percent in 2004, according to exit polling and data compiled by the Pew Hispanic Center.

If they stay home in large numbers, Democrats, including both Reids and Rep. Dina Titus, likely lose.

For Democrats on the dais at Saturday’s big downtown immigration rally, which drew several thousand people, the event was a great way to reach out to that base.

But it was also an awkward affair.

On that key issue for Hispanic voters — comprehensive immigration reform — Democrats haven’t done anything. Obama mentioned it in one sentence in his State of the Union address.

There’s been some theater about taking on immigration this year, with Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., establishing a “framework” for legislation. At the rally, Reid reiterated his desire to bring legislation to the floor this year. But the conventional wisdom in Washington — granted, that gives it an even chance of being wrong — is that Congress will do financial regulatory reform and another jobs bill this year, and then head home to campaign.

It’s easy to see why they haven’t gotten around to immigration this year: Congress has had a full plate, and immigration is a divisive issue that will fire up the Republican base.

Still, invited guests at Saturday’s rally were there to pump up Hispanic turnout — but can’t offer up much in return.

“You have a lot of elected officials who have made promises to get it done,” said Michael Flores, a local organizer for Reform Immigration for America. “People in the streets are discouraged.

“We are trying to spur them into action,” he said of the elected officials.

Barreto thinks it would be smart politics for Democrats to take up immigration. It could help Democratic turnout. True, it would animate Republicans, but they’re going to turn out in big numbers anyway, so he thinks it would be a net positive.

On health care, another key issue for Hispanic voters, Democrats again fell short with that bloc. Hispanic activists were disappointed with some provisions of the law, saying it is not progressive enough and doesn’t cover enough of the uninsured.

“It was underwhelming in the Latino community,” Barreto said.

It’s hard not to get a sense that Democrats think they can take this constituency for granted.

They do so at their own peril.

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