GOP must change to achieve Latino dream
As California enters the heart of an election year where the Top Two primary system has saddled the state’s Republican Party with new problems at several political and governmental levels, the GOP still clings to one big pipe dream:
Despite the anti-immigrant, anti-Mexican rhetoric of presidential nominee Donald Trump, the GOP persists in hoping to cut into the gigantic majorities every Democrat has won among Latinos over the last generation, except when they’ve run against movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Schwarzenegger was a special case, first winning office in a recall election almost purely on the strength of his celebrity and muscleman image.
That did not help the GOP in the long term. The state party now faces an unprecedented situation where it not only qualified no candidate for this fall’s contest to replace Democrat Barbara Boxer in the U.S. Senate, but also has no candidates at all in more than 30 other races.
Around the state today, 25 battles for Congress or the Legislature see only one party on the ballot, two more feature Democrats facing off with “no party preference” candidates and 16 slots have candidates running unopposed. The vast majority of these one-sided elections feature Democrats.
One cause is clear: If the GOP had been able to draw a substantial vote from the state’s large Latino population in the June primary, today’s situation would look very different. After more than a century of political dormancy, Latinos have emerged as the second-largest ethnic voting ThomasD. Eliaswrites on California politicsand otherissues.
bloc in California and almost everywhere else, trailing only whites of European descent.
There is no Schwarzenegger-like savior in sight today for the state’s Republicans – in fact, there is no major GOP figure now among the leading prospects to run for governor in 2018 – so the state party’s real need is to look hard at what it does and how that offends Latinos. For without a lot of Latino votes, no party in California can hope to accomplish much.
Just how negatively Latinos feel about Republicans can be seen in some recent elections. In 2010, Boxer carried 66 percent of the Latino vote to 31 percent for rival Carly Fiorina. If Fiorina had won 40 percent of Latino votes – as Ronald Reagan often did in his heyday – she’d be a senator today. Jerry Brown won Latino balloting by a 6334 percent margin in the same year – the last time California had an open seat in the governor’s office. With Trump running, polls suggest Democrats can now expect to get well over 70 percent of Latino votes.
Republicans are realistic enough to know they’ll have to turn around quite a few Latinos to make respectable showings in the future, or to begin cutting down the current 17 percent Democratic advantage among registered voters.
They vowed several times in recent years to do that, even hiring Latino outreach directors with Spanish surnames. So far, it has not helped.
So if Republicans don’t want to sink into complete irrelevancy in California, they’ll have to make some real changes. Merely hiring people whose names sound Hispanic won’t do. Nor will happy talk. Especially not after most key state GOP figures fell right into line behind Trump despite his racist remarks and attacks even on second generation Mexican-Americans.
One national poll by the pro-immigrant America’s Voice organization found more than 80 percent of Latino voters consider immigration today’s most important issue. The survey found the vast majority wants a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who have caused no trouble while living in America for several years.
Republicans who take stances like that, including U.S. Reps. Jeff Denham and David Valadao, both reelected repeatedly in Central Valley districts with large Latino voting blocs, are eminently electable.
But so far, only a few Republicans have seen this light. The remainder refuse to make a significant shift on immigration, preferring to be hard-liners who have at least provided a counterpoint to the Democrats’ pro-immigration stances, when they’d have a chance to win if they changed a bit.
Until this mindset alters, expect no major gains for the GOP in California, which except in a few places is now about as irrelevant as any major political party here ever has been.