Santorum’s Exit: What it Means For Latinos

That haze you see on the GOP side of the political aisle is the heavy dust settling after Rick Santorum’s announcement that he’s suspending his presidential campaign. It’s also the dust being kicked-up by party partisans and rank-and-file devotees, scrambling to put together a semblance of national party unity.  Somewhere in that immediate chaos (it’ll settle, soon) someone is standing with a to-do list, and at the top of that list is a sharp turn to the center (read here: left).

Here’s what that looks like: convince the most conservative wing of the Republican party to stick with Mitt Romney while he courts the independent  moderate voters; convince the independent moderate voters that he’s really not as radically conservative as the role he played to win the GOP nomination; hope the liberal base falls asleep or takes a vacation right around the first week of November.

A big part of that calculus has always been the Vice Presidential pick, and a big part of the Vice Presidential pick has always been the speculation about whether it really matters in the minds of the voters on a national scale. The national media tends to make a big deal out of it, but that’s because it’s the national media and anything it mentions is inherently a big deal – over and over again. But in the same breath national media  ommentators ponder if a Vice Presidential candidate matters beyond his or her own backyard, thereby rendering the entire exercise pointless. So we’re back to where we began, with settling dust, a to-do list, a veering-left GOP with implications that the veer should include attracting the Latino vote.

And here’s another set of variables: the GOP needs Latino voters in order to win in November, that is, if Latinos go out to vote, but we can’t rely on that.  Yet, Latinos are strategically arranged across the map, in swing states, so that even a small percentage of Latino voter participation could hold the outcome in the balance.

Forgive my nit-picking, but, who are these Latinos, and do we know their addresses? Because now that Santorum is out of the race, this down-in-the-roots information is golden.

Think about it. In terms if the GOP and the Latino vote a lot is going to be said and written about Marco Rubio and his waving a conservative version of a DREAM Act that may or may not attract Latinos to the conservative cause. But who really needs Rubio or specific issues when the balance of the election may rest on the shoulders of a handful of Latino voters in North Carolina or Pennsylvania?

The fact that Santorum finally exited the race doesn’t change a thing, we all knew it would happen and some bookies may have been smart enough to take bets on when. That leaves Mitt Romney and the GOP a little less than 8 months to move from their claimed space to the right of Santorum, over to the center of the national debate where President Obama’s been standing, lobbing rhetorical shells, claiming Latinos and women on his side.

But the question that stands is: Can either of them make that claim? At this point what’s done is done and the campaigns will be what all campaigns are – positioning games.  And because of history, because of the dust, and because of the gritty GOP nomination fight, for the time being the advantage goes to the Dems. Their challenge is to hold the Latino interest on election day.

[Photo by  Gage Skidmore]

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