Republicans Need Latinos, So Attacking Sotomayor is "Just Not Smart Politics"

The suburbs and the exurbs are the ball game, and the Democrats are winning.

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By John Aloysius Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

If you want good ethnic food in America, you no longer head for the nearest city. "The best ethnic restaurants are not downtown" but in the suburbs, says Virginia Tech professor Robert Lang. "They are in the dead strip malls from the 1950s."

And that is one reason that things are looking up for the Democrats in the wake of the 2008 elections.

We've looked this week at the 2008 results in terms of race and age. But Lang gave attendees at a Brookings Institution/American Enterprise Institute conference on American political demography an important lesson in geography last Friday.

It was a repeat visit for Lang. After sifting through the 2006 election data, he showed up at AEI in February of 2008 and demonstrated how the Democrats have maintained their base in the urban cores, and edged ever outward in recent years, threatening traditional Republican strongholds in the suburbs.

The further that the plumes of Democratic blue extended into the red Republican suburban homeland, Lang said, the better the chance that the Democratic nominee would win a purple state like Virginia or Colorado, and its Electoral College votes. As we know, that is just what happened last November.

Lang divides metropolitan areas into their urban "cores" like Washington D.C., "inner suburbs" like Arlington, Va. or DeKalb county in Ga., "mature suburbs" like Montgomery County, Md. or  Fairfax County, Va., "emerging suburbs" like Loudoun and Prince William Counties in Va. or Douglas County in Colo. and "exurbs" like Fauquier County, Va. or Pinal County, Az.

Democrats still rule the big cores, where Barack Obama got 75 percent of the vote last fall, and because of increased growth and diversity are now beating the GOP in the "inner suburbs" (where Obama got 60 percent) and the "mature suburbs" (which gave Obama 57 percent of the vote) as well.

Meanwhile, the Republican hold on the emerging suburbs and exurbs is shrinking. George W. Bush took the emerging suburbs with 60 percent of the vote in 2004, but John McCain won but 55 percent of these voters in 2008. And in 2008, Obama bested Kerry's performance in the exurbs by four points, and ended up with 42 percent of the vote.

These big metro areas are the ball game, Lang said. "There are just not enough rural folks and small city people left in America in the key states that determine the Electoral College," he noted.

A key to the Democrats' competitiveness in the 'burbs is the Latino vote, which makes the initial Republican response to Obama's nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court all the more baffling. For example, it was the support of the Latino voters of suburban Florida, many of them who share Sotomayor's Puerto Rican heritage, that helped Obama take the state last fall.

Attacking Sotomayor on ethnic-related issues, said Lang, "is just not smart politics."

Here is his formula: "Density + Diversity = Democrats."

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