Hispanics Key to Victory in 2012 Presidential Race

Republican presidential candidates need to pay attention to this rapidly growing population.

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Democratic pollster Andre Pineda says that Republican candidates are in a bind on the subject of immigration. "They have to appeal to the xenophobic wing of their party," but also have to portray themselves as moderates on the issue to the general electorate. "McCain was one of the strongest supporters of immigration reform before he ran for president. And then he decides to run for president and realizes that he can't be so liberal on immigration. ... McCain showed how difficult it is to do that kind of two-step." [See Obama's four roadblocks to immigration reform.]

But treating the diverse Hispanic community as a monolithic voting bloc is also wrongheaded. Immigration certainly "generates a lot of heat and interest" among Latino voters, says Leslie Sanchez, CEO of Republican consulting firm Impacto Group. But she adds, "The biggest misconception about Hispanic voters is that they're single-issue voters." In the 2010 NALEO poll, only 33 percent of Latino registered voters counted immigration as one of their three top election issues. Instead, like many Americans, Hispanics are worried about the nation's economic woes. Hispanic voters face more economic hardship than the nation as a whole, with unemployment among Hispanics at 11.9 percent, compared to the 9.1 percent national rate.

Sosa believes that former House speaker and GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich is making the best effort thus far with Hispanics, voicing his moderate views on immigration and reaching out to the Hispanic community specifically. Gingrich hosted a December conference on Latino issues in Washington, and Spanish-language network Univision's Sunday-morning public affairs show, "Al Punto," was also one of his first stops after announcing his candidacy.

  • Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the 2012 GOP hopefuls.
  • See Obama's four roadblocks to immigration reform.
  • See Obama's four ways forward on immigration.