By EMILY SCHULTHEIS
The immigration proposal pending in Congress would transform the nation’s political landscape for a generation or more — pumping as many as 11 million new Hispanic voters into the electorate a decade from now in ways that, if current trends hold, would produce an electoral bonanza for Democrats and cripple Republican prospects in many states they now win easily.
Beneath the philosophical debates about amnesty and border security, there are brass-tacks partisan calculations driving the thinking of lawmakers in both parties over comprehensive immigration reform, which in its current form offers a pathway to citizenship — and full voting rights — for a group of undocumented residents that roughly equals the population of Ohio, the nation’s seventh-largest state.
If these people had been on the voting rolls in 2012 and voted along the same lines as other Hispanic voters did last fall, President Barack Obama’s relatively narrow victory last fall would have been considerably wider, a POLITICO analysis showed.
Key swing states that Obama fought tooth and nail to win — like Florida, Colorado and Nevada — would have been comfortably in his column. And the president would have come very close to winning Arizona.
Republican Mitt Romney, by contrast, would have lost the national popular vote by 7 percentage points, 53 percent to 46 percent, instead of the 4-point margin he lost by in 2012, and would have struggled even to stay competitive in GOP strongholds like Texas, which he won with 57 percent of the vote.
The analysis is based on U.S. Census and Pew Research Center estimates of illegal immigrant populations by state, and presidential exit polls showing how Obama and Romney performed among Latinos.
Extrapolating 2012 voting trends to elections several cycles in the future is an inherently speculative exercise. Under a 13-year path to citizenship, this would mean most undocumented immigrants could join the voting rolls in the 2028 presidential election (though the proposed 5-year timeline for citizenship under the DREAM Act and for agricultural workers would start the process even earlier than that). But it is one that highlights the political sword hanging over Republicans as they consider immigration reform with a path to citizenship, an idea that is already deeply unpopular with many red-state constituencies.
To support the measure virtually guarantees millions of new Democratic voters. But for Republicans to oppose immigration reform invites hostility among Hispanic-Americans who already are punishing the GOP and imperiling its electoral prospects.
This reality, say many Republican strategists, gives the party no long-term alternative but to welcome the new voters and hope this allows the party to compete for Hispanic voters in ways that are closer to how President George W. Bush performed in 2004. National exit polls that year showed he won 44 percent of the Hispanic vote. Some analysts have questioned this data, but there is little doubt that Bush performed significantly better with this group than Romney, who got just 27 percent.
If Republicans do nothing to repair their relationships with current and future Latino voters, “we certainly won’t be a national political party anymore,” said GOP strategist Steve Schmidt, a top adviser to John McCain in 2008.
If one adds 11 million new Hispanic voters after immigration reform but applies 2004 percentages, the damage to Republicans is real but much less severe: Romney would have still won border states Texas and Arizona, albeit by smaller margins, while Obama would have held other Latino-heavy swing states like Nevada and Florida by slightly larger margins than the ones he did win by.