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Obama says Latinos could be 'big reason' he wins second term

October 26, 2012|By Hector Becerra
  • President Obama greets supporters during a campaign rally at Triangle Park in Dayton, Ohio.
President Obama greets supporters during a campaign rally at Triangle… (Mandel Ngan / AFP/Getty…)

If President Obama is reelected next month, it will be thanks to a large assist from the Latino vote. So said Obama to the Des Moines Register.

In his interview with the Iowa newspaper, originally off the record but later released with the approval of the White House, the president underscored the importance of Latino votes to his chances.

“Since this is off the record, I will just be very blunt,” Obama said. “Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community.”

And if he loses? A big reason could be that Latinos simply didn’t get to the polls, says Matt Barreto, a University of Washington political scientist and one of the founders of the polling firm Latino Decisions.

Obama clearly needs many constituencies — women, the young and at least 40% of the white vote — but to Barreto one can’t underestimate the value of African Americans and Latinos. “If he wins, it will be entirely due to the black and Latino voters,” Barreto said, adding that they are the part of the electorate that could put Obama “over the top” in an extremely close race.

The president went on to credit President George W. Bush and Karl Rove for being “smart enough to understand the changing nature of America.” In 2004, Bush got 44% of the Latino vote, but Romney is polling in the twenties. Barreto said Latino Decisions’ own surveys suggest Obama could get up to 75% of the Latino vote.

Barreto said it will be extremely difficult for a Republican presidential candidate to lose the Latino vote by such margins and still win the presidency. The key next month, for both Obama and Romney, will be whether Latinos actually cast ballots. Nearly 24 million Latinos are eligible to vote, a record number, but their turnout in presidential elections has fallen far behind that of other groups, including whites and blacks.

In 2008, 90% of Republican candidate John McCain’s votes came from whites. That election, McCain got 57% of the white vote and Obama got 43%. But though whites remain the foundation of the Republicans’ base, the white vote isn’t keeping up with the growth of the Latino vote, experts say.

During a recorded conversation at the Florida home of a donor, Romney warned that “if the Hispanic voting bloc becomes as committed to the Democrats as the African American voting bloc has in the past, why, we’re in trouble as a party and, I think, as a nation.”

Barreto said Romney should win if he gets more than 60% of the white vote and black and Latino turnout flags. The Romney campaign has tried to capture more of the Latino vote, casting Obama as a disappointing president whose policies have not helped Latinos who were disproportionally affected by the recession; the campaign notes the president failed to pass promised immigration reform and has deported record numbers of illegal immigrants.

Barreto said Latino Decisions thinks Romney could get about 25% of the Latino vote, but a substantial percentage of that support comes from Cuban Americans in Florida, and particularly older ones. Meanwhile, that state has seen increasing numbers of Dominicans, Colombians, Puerto Ricans and Mexicans, who are more likely to vote Democratic. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, 32% of eligible Latino voters in Florida are Cuban American.

He said that with election day so close, it would be almost impossible for Romney to substantially narrow the huge advantage Obama has among Latino voters.

“There’s almost nothing he can do in the next two weeks to get those numbers up to 35%,” Barreto said.

Still, Obama needs a big black and Latino turnout.

“If black and Latino turnout is low, lower than in 2008,” Barreto said, “that will be devastating for the president in about eight states” — all of which are battleground states that will likely decide who is the next president.

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hector.becerra@latimes.com

Twitter: @LaTimesHekutor

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