JONATHAN COHN MARCH 7, 2012
Are the Republican presidential candidates alienating Latino voters with their strident talk on immigration -- and, in the process, seriously jeopardizing their chances at winning the White House? It would appear so.
In a new poll of Latino voters from Fox News, President Obama beat Mitt Romney in a hypothetical matchup by 70 percent to 14 percent. Yes, that's a 56 point gap. The other GOP contenders fared about the same. None did better than Romney's showing.
No, Republicans don't usually do well among Latinos. But they don't usually do this bad. John McCain got more than twice this much support in 2008, as the above graph, from Steve Benen, shows.
Until relatively recently, many pundits were speculating that Obama might struggle with Latinos, because he hasn't delivered on immigration reform. In fact, Obama got a question about precisely that problem at Tuesday's White House press conference. But, according to the Fox poll, 73 percent of Latinos approve of the job Obama is doing. That's much higher than the national average.
Romney is an inflexible opponent of the DREAM Act; he's palling around with Pete Wilson and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach; he endorses a "self-deportation" agenda; he's critical of bilingualism; and his casual dismissals of "amnesty" and "illegals" are a staple of his campaign rhetoric.
A lot can happen between now and November. Most likely Romney, or whoever becomes the Republican nominee, will pick up at least some Latino support once these debilitating primaries are over. And if the nominee chooses at Latino running mate, that might be good for a few more points, enough perhaps to swing a key state or two.
But the Republican nominee will have a lot of ground to make up. Conventional wisdom is that a Republican must capture about 40 percent of the Latino vote to win a national election. The last Republican to do that was George W. Bush, who went out of his way to court Latinos, openly supported immigration reform, and -- as a result -- wouldn't stand a chance of winning the nomination in today's GOP.
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Update: Greg Sargent sifts through another new poll, by Univision, and points out that Latino voters also tend to agree with Obama on policy. It's not all good news for the president: They're not as enthusiastic about him as they used to be. But overall he seems to be in much better shape than Romney or any other Republican candidate.