The Focus for The Latino Vote Will Be: North Carolina?

I’ve been hearing rumblings for months that the epicenter, if not the focus, of the battle for the Latino vote this year would be in North Carolina. I know what you’re thinking – I thought it too. But I kept hearing it, from different people who I knew should know, so I began to pay attention. Then this news broke yesterday,  I first saw it attached to an email, it’s from the National Journal:

Promising unprecedented outreach to Hispanic voters in 2012, the chairman of the Republican National Committee said on Monday that the party is dispatching Hispanic directors to six battleground states: Colorado, Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Virginia.

So I went down my mental battleground state list:  Colorado, Florida, Nevada, and New Mexico make sense, they’ve been election battlegrounds before; states where the Latino vote is significant enough to tip the teetering scales one way or another. Virginia and North Carolina, though, didn’t come immediately to mind as important Latino battlegrounds. They’ve got about an 8% Latino population and in 2008 the states went to Barack Obama.

That last idea, the one about the states going to Obama, is telling: the Republicans want them back and the Democrats want to keep them. The votes in those states are pretty much split either way, Republican and Democrat, as is stands. But there’s a sliver of a group, an 8% slice of the population, that could break the wave in any direction.

“We are going to engage Hispanics and Latinos like we never have before,’’ RNC Chairman Reince Priebus told reporters in a telephone call.

It’s a matter of survival; Hispanics are the fastest-growing segment of the electorate and polls show Obama with a substantial edge in that demographic.

It’s just mid-April, but the fight for votes is in full swing. The GOP has sent it’s cavalry into battle. But note this: the Preibus quote above is eyebrow-raising interesting. What exactly did he mean by engaging Latinos “like we never have before?” One of two things, he’s either running fast and loose with English idioms, or he’s tripping over his own Freudian slips.

Up until this point Prebibus’ party has been engaging Latinos as they always have, with a hard line on immigration, voting rights, and heathcare. But they keep telling themselves that Latinos are, at heart, conservatives and they just don’t know it. So I imagine that the GOP campaign cavalry that’s been sent to the six battleground states have been given orders to enlighten Latinos about their higher conservative selves:

 Priebus said the party would focus its communications with Hispanics on the economy, government spending, and the national debt. Asked about immigration…Priebus said the GOP would remind Hispanic voters that the president had broken his promise to deliver immigration reform in his first term.

Of course, there is the problem that most Republicans oppose comprehensive immigration reform, the DREAM Act, a path to citizenship, etc…

But  it’s not all Latinos that the GOP needs to convince, it’s just a very small number of them in Virginia and more importantly North Carolina. If they can convince those Latinos, and by convincing them win those states, they tip the overall balance.

So it turns out that those people who were talking to me about the Latino vote in North Carolina were right all along. That’s where the battle will be, along with the tried and true Colorado, Florida, Nevada, New Mexico.

But this is what the GOP is going to find when they get to those states (the same thing Hillary Clinton found when her campaign arrived in Iowa in 2007):  the Obama folks set-up camp there weeks ago.

[Photo by Johnthan Speed]

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