The percentage of the electorate that is white has fallen from 88 percent under Ronald Reagan to 74 percent when the first African-American president was elected. Ayres added,"We're not talking about differences at the margins. We're talking about fundamentally different electoral outcomes.''
(PICTURES: Stakeholders in the Ariz. Case)
No wonder, as polls show Romney lagging behind Obama among Hispanic voters, the presumptive Republican nominee has started to retreat from the hard line against illegal immigration that he took in the primary campaign. He recently told supporters at a fundraiser in Florida that the Republican Party needs to come up with its own version of the Dream Act, which would offer citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants who enroll in college or the military. In another sign that Romney is worried about his image with Hispanics, his campaign pushed back on the perception that he praised the Arizona law in a nationally televised debate earlier this year, insisting last week that he was referring to the state's electronic database for employers to check legal status.
"If the party as a whole continues to take a hard line on immigration, we look like the bad guys,'' said Hispanic media strategist Lionel Sosa, a former adviser to Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign. "The Republican Party does not want to write off the Hispanic vote.''
(PICTURES: Where the Presidential Candidates Stand on Immigration)
Some political analysts question whether the crackdown on illegal immigrants in Arizona and other states could fuel a Democratic backlash like the one that followed Proposition 187 in California, a GOP-led initiative in 1994 that sought to bar illegal immigrants from receiving public services. It was declared unconstitutional, but the uproar in the Hispanic community helped turn the largest state in the country, home to Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon, from red to blue.
If Arizona saw a similar backlash, a state that has voted for only one Democratic nominee since Harry Truman could suddenly be in play. So could other reliably Republican states with growing Hispanic populations.
"Proposition 187 was suicide for Republicans in California. It remains to be seen if the same thing happens in Arizona, but the ingredients are there,'' said Arizona-based political analyst Michael O'Neil. "Take these trends out another 20 years -- Texas could become Democratic, and then you have a whole new ballgame. We're moving to a point where this country will no longer be majority white, and if Republicans don't get a foothold among Hispanic voters, they'll be dead.''
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American often mentioned as a possible running mate for Romney, could help the party bridge the gap. The hotshot freshman senator sought the middle ground at a University of Phoenix/National Journal forum last week when he said that although he thinks the Arizona law is constitutional, he does not see it as a "model.'' He also touted a possible alternative to the Dream Act that would offer legal status and work visas, but not citizenship, to people brought to the United States illegally as children. Romney, who campaigned with Rubio for the first time on Monday in Pennsylvania, said he was considering the proposal.