The GOP's Delicate Courtship of Latino Voters

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>A new Associated Press-Univision poll shows that despite high Hispanic support for President Obama and his party, Democrats' historic grip on Latino voters is starting to slip.

The poll found that three times as many Hispanics favor the Democratic Party than favor the GOP, and that Hispanic approval of Obama's job performance is 13 points higher than the rest of the nation's approval rating of him. But only 43 percent of respondents said Obama is adequately addressing their needs, and 21 percent said he was not.

Of these needs, the top two are economic recovery and immigration reform. While Obama has not garnered high marks on the first from Hispanic or non-Hispanic voters, the AP reports that his reaction to Arizona's strict immigration law has boosted his performance reviews among Latino respondents:

Since the controversy over the Arizona law erupted in April, Hispanics who mostly speak English at home gave Obama higher marks on his handling of their top issues than did Hispanics who primarily speak Spanish and who tend to be more recent immigrants or non-citizens.

Analysts say it's possible that the more English-dominant Hispanics rallied around the president following the enactment of the Arizona law and his challenge to it; some 40 percent of them approved of his performance on their key issues before Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed the law in April, but the figure rose to 52 percent in the weeks after.

In a separate poll (PDF) conducted by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund, substantial majorities of Latino voters in California, Colorado, Texas, and Florida said immigration would make them more likely to vote in November. Fifty-four percent said that they would be less likely to vote for a candidate or party that took a position on immigration that they disagreed with, even if they agreed with most of that candidate or party's positions on other issues. 

This finding does not bode well for Carly Fiorina, a Republican who is struggling to woo Latino voters for her Senate bid in California without alienating the 49 percent of Californians who support Arizona's immigration law. An independent, conservative Latino group plans to spend at least $1 million on pro-Fiorina advertising targeting Hispanic voters. But Fiorina supports the Arizona law, which the group admits they don't agree with her on. This shows what a tricky tightrope the issue will be for her to walk, but walk it she must: according to the NALEO poll, only 16 percent of California's Latino voters favor Fiorina, while 61 percent support Sen. Barbara Boxer.

Gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, however, has the opposite problem. She opposes the Arizona law, a position she must explain to the 64 percent of those who support it but say they're likely to vote for her. But Whitman's opposition hasn't won her much Latino support. NALEO found that only 15 percent of Hispanic voters in the state prefer Whitman, while a solid 49 percent support her rival Jerry Brown.    

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Nicole Allan is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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