Latinos May Have Saved Senate For Democrats

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Harry Reid

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada greets supporters after speaking at a rally held by members of the Hispanic community in Las Vegas on Oct. 16. Reid got about 90 percent of the Hispanic vote, according to a poll of likely voters taken right before the election. Julie Jacobson/AP hide caption

toggle caption Julie Jacobson/AP

Amid of a wave of Republican victories on Tuesday, Democrats may have Hispanic voters to thank for their narrow majority in the Senate.

Polls show Latinos' overwhelming support for Democrats made the difference in at least three Senate races in the West.

In Nevada, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid got about 90 percent of the Hispanic vote, according to a poll of likely voters taken right before the election.

Among Reid's supporters was construction worker Paul Montoya.

"I'm going with Harry," he said on his way to his polling place in northwest Las Vegas on Tuesday. "He opened a lot of jobs for us union guys, so he has my vote all the way."

Democrats in Nevada have focused intensely on building ties to the Latino community for the past few years, and on Wednesday morning, a triumphant Reid said it was well worth the effort.

"People have, in effect, made fun of me, saying, 'Why are you wasting your time with a group that doesn't register, and if they register, they don't vote?'" he said. "Well, we proved that wrong in 2008 and we certainly proved it wrong last night."

Making A Difference

It wasn't just in Nevada that Latinos made the difference. According to the bilingual poll conducted by Latino Decisions, Hispanics in California contributed about 10 points to the vote for incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer, who won by 9 percentage points.

And in Colorado, Latinos gave Democrat Michael Bennet a 6-point boost — and he won by a margin of less than 1 percent.

"I think that if a number of Republican candidates had chosen not to use tactics that demonized immigrants and Latinos or had not fumbled the immigration issue, you could be looking at a Republican Senate right now," says Clarissa Martinez with the National Council of La Raza, one of the sponsors of the Latino Decisions poll.

She points to ads like the one run by Nevada Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle, showing scary-looking Latinos creeping along a fence.

"If you're adopting a strategy where you are largely offending this community, finding common ground in other issues that Latinos care about is going to be really hard — to get past that first hurdle," Martinez says.

The hurdle is getting higher, says Mark Lopez of the Pew Hispanic Center, because the Latino population is growing.

"That also means there's been a growth in the number of Hispanics who are eligible to vote — and that is on the order of anywhere from a million to 2 million additional Latinos eligible to vote each and every election cycle," he says.

Problems For Republicans

Republicans are in a bad situation, says Gary Segura, a Stanford political science professor and the pollster for Latino Decisions. Despite their huge victory on Tuesday, he says, "they lost in every racial and ethnic group except whites. They haven't in any way broadened their coalition. And the question is — with whites declining as a share of the population, what's the future for them to build a vote base?"

Republicans can point to growing diversity in their candidates this election cycle. In Florida, Republican Senate winner Marco Rubio got 62 percent of the Latino vote — no surprise in Florida, where Cuban-Americans have long been predominantly Republican. In Nevada and New Mexico, Republicans won the governorship with Latino candidates: Brian Sandoval will be Nevada's first Hispanic governor and Republican Susana Martinez will be New Mexico's first female Hispanic governor.

But even in those two races, most Latino voters backed the Democrats.

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