Latino activists and immigration reform advocates knew going into the midterms that 2014 wasn’t the ideal election to punish Republicans for killing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. The House was largely insulated from any serious challenge, few Senate races up for grabs had significant Latino voting populations, and turnout in off years tends to draw older, white, conservative voters. Even by that standard, however, Tuesday night was rough.
Nationally, Democrats won 64% of Latino voters, according to exit polls – exactly halfway between their 60% level in 2010 and 68% in 2012. The numbers suggest the GOP still has major hurdles with one of the fastest-growing voting blocs in the nation, an issue that will loom large in 2016. Republican pollsters preemptively warned the party earlier this week not to get too excited by their gains on Tuesday given these broader problems.
With the Hispanic share of the electorate potentially doubling by 2030, that’s a serious issue for the GOP in the long term. In the short term, however, these races pose a dilemma for Democrats and especially the White House. Up until recently, it was assumed that immigration was an unambiguous winning issue for Democrats that fired up Latino voters while largely flying under the radar with other demographics. Republicans this year found that the issue was still useful in revving up the conservative base, while their Democratic targets were worried enough about the issue to pressure Obama into delaying a long-planned executive action on deportation procedures.