Tuesday was a great night for Republicans, but it would have been better yet had Sen. Harry Reid gone down to defeat. And while many analysts have debated the role the tea party played in a few high-profile Republican losses on Election Day, including that of Reid's opponent Sharron Angle, the real story is what happened with the Hispanic vote.
Hispanics made up 18 percent of those voting in the Nevada election -- a much larger than average showing in a non-presidential election. Had Angle won as large a share of Hispanics as did the successful Republican gubernatorial candidate, Brian Sandoval, she'd be Senator-elect Angle today. Instead, she chose to engage in illegal-immigrant bashing as her theme in the last days of the election, with reprehensible ads that depicted illegal immigrants as stealing jobs from Nevadans and terrorizing families as violent gang members.
Republicans faced a similar problem in Colorado, where Democratic Sen. Michael Bennett managed to squeak to victory over his Republican challenger Ken Buck. In this race, however, it was less Buck's direct missteps on the immigration issue that cost him the race. Buck's problem was former Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo's presence on the ballot as an Independent running for governor.
Tancredo is the bete noire of illegal immigration and the prospect that he might actually win the governorship -- he polled second in the race, well ahead of Republican Dan Maes -- brought out a big Hispanic vote. In their get-out-the-vote efforts, Democrats targeted nearly 90,000 Hispanic voters who only sporadically vote in non-presidential elections, and exit polls suggest the efforts paid off.
Angle won less than 10 percent of Hispanic votes and Beck less than 20 percent. Hispanics generally vote Democratic -- but they are not monolithic voters similar to African-Americans. In six of the presidential elections since 1972, Hispanics have given Republican candidates 30 percent or more of their votes. Republicans do not have to win a majority of Hispanic votes, even in heavily Hispanic states -- but they cannot totally alienate Hispanic voters in those states either. And much of the difference has to do with tone.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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