Is the Republican Party in danger of permanently losing the “ethnic vote” — not just African-Americans, who traditionally vote overwhelmingly Democratic, but also Hispanics and Asians who constitute an ever-increasing share of the US electorate?
Democrats began promoting this argument after the 2008 presidential election, when Barack Obama swept the black vote 9-1 and also carried Hispanics by over 2-1, reversing a noticeable Latino tilt towards the GOP under George W. Bush.
And they’re pushing it again, because Republicans strongly oppose Obamacare and an “amnesty” for illegal aliens, despite strong Latino support for these policies. Even some top GOP leaders are expressing serious concern about the party’s “image problem” with ethnic voters.
But look at what’s actually happening in this year’s electoral races. Despite all the talk of a Republican embrace of “nativism” — or worse, “racism” — the party has been slowly positioning itself to make new inroads with ethnic voters, including Latinos. And Democrats, for all their talk of being the party of “inclusion,” may be in danger of losing ethnic support, especially from voters who aren’t in lockstep with their economic and social policies.
Consider, for example, which party is visibly promoting minority candidates for higher office this year. Two Hispanics are running for governor — in New Mexico and Nevada — and one is running for the Senate — in Florida. All three are Republicans with steady double-digit leads in the polls. The GOP candidate in New Mexico, Susana Martinez, is poised to become the first female Hispanic governor in US history — and she’ll surely emerge as an instant GOP spokeswoman if she wins.
A fourth GOP candidate, Nikki Haley, who is Indian-American, is running for governor of South Carolina, and could join Louisiana’s Republican governor Bobby Jindal as the nation’s only Indian state chief executives. Like Martinez, she’s part of the largest wave of female GOP candidates in US history, thanks in part to financial and political support from Sarah Palin.
By contrast, most of the female House and Senate Democratic candidates running for office this year are incumbents who came to power during the past decade or so. A large number are likely to lose their races for re-election. That means there will be fewer women in Congress after November 2nd, but a much higher share of them will be Republicans.
But it’s not just the number of new GOP minority and female candidates — but also their caliber — that is so striking, a fact that even some Democrats grudgingly acknowledge. Marco Rubio, the telegenic and soft-spoken Cuban-American running in Florida’s Senate race, has been called the “Republican Barack Obama.” His story of emerging from the squalor of his parents’ lives to achieve success in America — and his constant invocation of the country’s role as the world’s “beacon of liberty” — has moved some audiences, and not just Republicans, to tears.
While the new GOP candidates have clearly rallied the base, it’s still unclear how far their inroads with ethnic voters actually go. None of the three GOP Hispanic candidates endorses immigration reform — Martinez especially — but polls suggest that many Latinos are still prepared to vote for them, in part because of their ethnicity. Rubio clearly has a strong following among his fellow Cuban-Americans, who still dominate Florida’s Latino community. And some of the female candidates are helping to narrow the GOP’s traditional gender gap with Democrats.