Republicans are asking what they did wrong in the 2006 midterms. This is a question with many answers. But few missteps were more foolish - and few will be harder to correct - than those made with Latino voters wrote Tamar Jacoby of the Manhattan Institute.
The appointment this week of Cuban-born Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida to chair the Republican National Committee is a good way to make a new start. But the damage done in the last year goes deeper than symbolism, and it will take more than one appointment to undo it.
Though Democrats have been wooing these voters longer and have won the lifetime loyalties of many in the second and third generations, immigrants have been up for grabs - and for more than 10 years now Republicans have been making a hard run at them. That effort was working pretty well. Between 1996 and 2004, Bush and Karl Rove managed to double the percentage of Latinos voting Republican in presidential elections: up from 21% for Bob Dole to a whopping 44% for Bush two years ago.
Other Republicans across the country were making similar inroads. In 2004, Bush advisor Matthew Dowd said that in the years ahead, the GOP would have to keep its share above 40% if it wanted to remain the majority party. But that scenario failed to account for the Republicans who didn't get it - and in the last year or so these naysayers have destroyed everything Bush built.
Republican hard-liners in the House refused to enact the president's immigration reform. They passed a bill making felons of illegal immigrants, not because it was good law but merely to make a political point. They spent recent months demagoguing the immigration issue, first at a series of "field hearings" in their districts and then on the campaign trail, casting newcomers as terrorists and criminals and anyone who seemed to side with them as un-American. The problem was as much about tone as substance - many Latinos are also worried about illegal immigration. But the hard-liners' grandstanding added up, and there was no mistaking the message: Not only illegal immigrants but 30 million Latino voters heard Republicans saying, "We don't like you."
The results were hardly surprising. Last week, Latinos voted 70% to 29% in favor of Democrats. And it could be argued that this shift is what decided the election. According to exit polls, white voters were split more or less evenly between the two parties, with Latinos, Asians and blacks making the difference on election night. In Indiana, U.S. Reps. John Hostettler, Chris Chocola and Mike Sodrel all sided with House hardliners and tried to use the illegal immigration issue. Rep. Chocola is shown talking with a Latino voter after his debate with Democrat Joe Donnelly in Rochester. Chocola ran TV ads splitting with President Bush on the immigration issue. He lost to Donnelly 54-46 percent.
I think Howey hits the nail on the head. Unfortunately for the GOP, I don't think the party leaders fully understand this yet.