During a Nov. 4 re-election victory speech, Republican Congressman Mike Coffman thanked his supporters in two languages.
Coffman talked about how important it was to have taken part in a recent all-Spanish debate with Andrew Romanoff, his …
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Coffman talked about how important it was to have taken part in a recent all-Spanish debate with Andrew Romanoff, his challenger in the 6th Congressional District race. The district is one of the most diverse in the country and has a large Latino population.
“Because for me it is very important to be able to share my vision to create more jobs and more opportunities to everyone in Colorado,” Coffman said in Spanish to a cheering crowd of supporters after defeating Romanoff decisively on Election Night.
Coffman has been studying Spanish with a tutor since his district was re-mapped to include more Latinos in 2012.
Coffman's near double-digit victory over Romanoff in what was supposed to be one of the closest races in the country is leaving Republicans hopeful that they finally have turned the corner in wooing a demographic that has largely rejected GOP policies — Latino voters.
“Times have changed and our party has changed and Mike Coffman represents the very best of a Republican who can run in a competitive district while making the effort to gain the confidence of his constituents,” said state Republican Party Chairman Ryan Call.
“I hope every Republican candidate will take a lesson from the efforts of Mike Coffman to listen to the people he represents.”
Although Call did not have any Latino voter data available at the time of his comments, he and other Republicans are confident that they were able to make inroads with Hispanic voters this election cycle. They also point to the win by Cory Gardner in the U.S. Senate race as evidence that they did well with all voting demographics.
But is it that Republicans have finally started to win over Latino voters — or is it that the GOP benefited from a lack of enthusiasm on the part of Latinos on Election Day?
Patty Kupfer of America's Voice, a Denver-based immigrant advocacy group, said exit polling numbers do not back Republicans' claims that they made inroads with Latino voters.
Kupfer pointed to an America's Voice-sponsored exit poll that shows Latino voters backed Democratic Sen. Mark Udall over Gardner 71 percent to 23 percent. Latinos supported Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper over Republican challenger Bob Beauprez by a 70 percent to 28 percent margin, according to exit poll findings.
“Latinos who voted were not voting Republican,” Kupfer said.
National exit polls conducted by Edison Research back Kupfer's assessment. Latinos voted for Democrats over Republicans by a 63 percent to 35 percent margin. Latino support for Democrats was higher this year than during the 2010 midterm elections, according to the exit poll's findings.
If that's the case, then why did so many Democratic candidates struggle in Colorado and across the country on Nov. 4, considering how reliably Democratic of a voting bloc Hispanics have become over the years.
“Maybe Latino turnout was not as high as we would have hoped,”Kupfer said. “There's just a real sense that it was hard to get people excited this year.”
Latino enthusiasm was a problem for Democrats leading up to Election Day. Kupfer said Latino voters made up about 8 percent of the votes cast in 2010. When all votes are counted this year, she expects that number to drop a full percentage point.
America's Voice also took part in a national poll of Latino voters who were registered, but who did not vote. She said the poll found that the vast majority of Latinos who did not vote were upset with President Barack Obama's decision to hold off on taking executive action on immigration issues until after the mid-term elections.
“He made the decision based on keeping the Senate in Democrats' hands... and look at where that got us,” Kupfer said.
Had the president gone forward with executive action on immigration, the issue would not have played well in Southern states - where Senate Democratic hopefuls lost anyway. But many political observers believed that the issue would have helped Udall by driving up Latino voter enthusiasm here.
State Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacio said he was “equally as disappointed in the president” as were Latinos over the president's immigration punt. But Palacio doesn't think lack of enthusiasm was the issue.
“I saw Latino voters come out in favor of our Democrats and it showed at the polls,” he said. “Very clearly, Democrats are on the side of immigration reform while Republicans continue to stall on this issue.”
Democratic leaders acknowledge that they were swept by a Republican wave this year that they believe will not be present two years from now. Democrats are hopeful that Latinos will continue to vote Democratic and that their influence will increase in 2016, a presidential-year election in which minority voter turnout will be much higher than it was last week.
But Ali Pardo, the GOP's Hispanic press secretary, said Democrats are just trying to make themselves feel better after a rough night on Nov. 4. She said Republicans have made gains among Latino voters after having been long-criticized by Hispanics for ignoring their issues and concerns.
“The Democrats can try to spin it anyway they want, but they've noticed,” she said. “We weren't in the (Hispanic) community the way we should have been before, but we are now.”
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