Democrats Lose Hold on Latinos and Women as Party's Base Drifts


Luisita Lopez Torregrosa

In the final stretch of this volatile and polarizing midterm election, while the beleaguered Democrats duck to ward off an approaching Republican steamroller, rippling cracks are widening in two of the most reliable and loyal Democratic voting blocs, women and Latinos.
The past several weeks have exposed troubling frustration, anger and apathy among white Democratic female voters and among Latino Democrats. More alarming for Democrats than the "enthusiasm gap" between Democrats and Republicans is emerging evidence that women and Latinos are drifting away from their longtime political home and moving across the line toward the GOP. (Democrats are also losing support among independents, Roman Catholics, college graduates, the 30-44 demographic and suburbanites, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll published Oct. 28.)
As if this trend needed underscoring, the GOP this year put together a stronger lineup of Hispanic candidates for major office than the Democrats did. In fact, in the 74 elections this year for governor or U.S. Senate, there is not a single Democratic Hispanic nominee – not a one. At the same time, the GOP fielded three top-tier Hispanics in predominantly blue states, and all three candidates are leading in Senate and governor races and are expected to win handily on Nov. 2.
In New Mexico, Nevada and Florida, Latino Republicans are ahead with platforms highlighting hot-button issues such as jobs, the economy, taxes, the deficit, and immigration. They've done so despite their support for tougher anti-illegal immigration measures like the Arizona law opposed by many Latinos.
Susana Martinez, a 50-year-old county district attorney in New Mexico, is likely to become the first female Hispanic governor in the country. She would succeed Bill Richardson, the nation's only Hispanic governor, who is retiring. Martinez favors lower taxes, less spending, tighter border security and, like most tea party-backed candidates, she is pro-life and anti-gay marriage. She is expected to get 30 percent of the Latino vote, which is high for a Republican in New Mexico. In a recent Rasmussen poll, she had widened her lead over Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, 51 percent to 41 percent.
In Florida, Marco Rubio, a 39-year-old son of Cuban exiles and former state legislator, leads a three-way race for the U.S. Senate. A tea party favorite, Rubio is ahead of U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, a black Democrat, and Gov. Charlie Crist, who is running as an independent after Rubio defeated him for the GOP nomination. Rubio's lead in a Quinnipiac poll released Thursday is at 42 percent to Crist's 35 percent and Meek's 15 percent. Pollsters and pundits are predicting he will become the only Hispanic Republican -- and only the second Latino -- in the U.S. Senate come January.
In a less flamboyant race, Brian Sandoval, a 47-year-old former federal judge, is expected to become Nevada's first Hispanic governor. He holds a comfortable lead over Rory Reid, the son of Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader who is in a deadlocked race with tea party candidate Sharron Angle. A recent Rasmussen poll had Sandoval leading Rory Reid, 56 percent to 37 percent.
The Hispanic Republican surge, buoyed by the Republican wave across the nation, comes amid signs that the nation's 19.3 million Latino registered voters are lukewarm toward the Democrats this year. A Pew Hispanic Center Study found that 51 percent planned to vote, compared to 70 percent of all U.S. voters. Latinos make up about 10 percent of the nation's electorate and turn out to vote in fewer numbers than other voters, but their vote can make or break races in states including California and Florida, Texas and New York, where many of the country's Latino voters reside.
The expected Hispanic GOP victories in Nevada, New Mexico, Florida, and in U.S. House races in Texas, Idaho, and Washington State, where Republican Latinos are trying to wrest incumbent Democrats off their congressional seats, are red flags warning Democrats that the Latino vote is not, if it ever was, a lock.
Neither is the women's vote.
Poll after poll this fall has documented the decline in enthusiasm among white Democratic female voters, suggesting that a number may stay home this year. Women haven't been as attentive as men and have expressed frustration and anger at the trajectory of the nation, namely the economy and the intractable political division in Washington.
But polls find that Republican women are the most enthusiastic among registered female voters.
With Sarah Palin leading conservative GOP women and carrying the tea party banner, female Republican candidates like Susana Martinez have grabbed much of the attention this year.
Headliners among them are Sharron Angle in Nevada, who might unseat Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader; Nikki Haley, a South Carolina Republican likely to win the State House; the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina, who is in a tight battle with Sen. Barbara Boxer in California. In New Hampshire, Kelly Ayotte is leading in the Senate race, and Mary Fallin is leading in the all-female governor's race in Oklahoma.
The marked Democratic women's shift toward the Republicans has been relatively recent, as of the last month. A New York Times/CBS poll in mid-September showed women favored Democrats over Republicans by seven percentage points. But in the most recent New York Times/CBS poll on Thursday, women said they were likely to support a Republican over a Democrat by four percentage points.
Looking beyond Nov. 2, the Democrats may not only have to live with major Republican victories in the Senate, House and governorships, but they will have to face and try to mend the crucial fractures in the party's coalition.