New Census Data Shows Democrats Must Focus on Immigration

Democrats could get a boost in 2012 if they focus on issues like immigration reform.

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After a brutal election year, Democrats are bracing for further injury, as the U.S. Census releases its big-count summary of how many citizens live in the country, and where they live. By all accounts, internal migration trends over the past decade will benefit GOP-leaning states while depriving onetime powerhouses such as New York of Democratic power in Washington. Ultra-blue Massachusetts is likely to lose a seat in Congress, while southern and western states like Arizona and Texas are expected to make pickups. That’s almost certain to increase Republican numbers in the House, making it tougher for Democrats in 2012 to reclaim the chamber they lost in this year’s elections.

The shift also accelerates a trend back to the regional power in the House, which for the past four years has been driven largely by coastal and big-city leaders. San Franciscan Nancy Pelosi has been Speaker; East Coast liberals such as Reps. Barney Frank of Massachusetts and Louise Slaughter and Charlie Rangel of New York have headed powerful committees--a dramatic flip from the days when Texans such as former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (aided by a Texan president) set the agenda. With the new Congress--and the Census trends that will give those old GOP regions more seats--Capitol Hill policies are more likely to reflect not just a GOP point of view, but a southern and western one.

President Obama, too, faces added hurdles for reelection. A lost seat in Massachusetts, for example, also means one fewer electoral vote in the presidential race. Weakened power held by traditionally Democratic states means Obama will have to pick up another state he might not have needed to win in 2008.

[Read more about the 2012 presidential election.]

Still, the demographics aren’t all positive for the GOP, and if the Democrats pay attention to issues such as immigration reform, long-term trends could end up boosting the Democrats. Latinos are the fastest-growing minority group in the country, and they are changing the political complexion of states like Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Nevada--all states that went from being fairly reliably Republican to swing states, and which may, in the next decade or two, become reliably Democratic. Even Texas may come into play for the wounded Democrats in future elections.

Hispanics are still a gettable voting group for the GOP; former President George W. Bush was making genuine inroads among Latinos. But Sen. John McCain lost ground among Hispanics in the 2008 race, quite likely because he abandoned the commitment to immigration reform he had once embraced. To stem systemic losses in the future, Democrats cannot make that same mistake.

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