Is Colorado the next California? Oh, how Democrats hope so -- they want one, two, many Californias.
A recent bout of polls show President Bush pulling ahead in the traditionally Republican-leaning battleground states that he must win, except for Colorado, which remains nip and tuck. The Rocky Mountain State is relatively close for the same reason -- at least partly -- that California has been lost to the GOP in presidential elections: ever-increasing numbers of Latino immigrants. That's why Republican stalwarts Nevada and Arizona are slowly shifting too.
Outside the merits of the immigration issue -- its costs, its implications for security and national cohesion -- the partisan dynamic is clear: Higher levels of Latin American immigration benefit the Democrats, while digging an ever-deeper demographic hole for Republicans. Pro-immigration conservatives fool themselves into believing that being pro-immigration will make it possible for the GOP to convert large numbers of Hispanic voters to their side. This is a party strategy that could have been crafted in Oregon, since it amounts to a kind of partisan assisted suicide.
New immigrants are poor, and Republicans have never, as a basic fact of political life, been good at attracting poor voters. New immigrants settle in large urban areas and older or low-income suburbs. Because these areas tend to be dominated by Democrats, it is Democratic organizations that will introduce them to politics, providing an immense benefit to their own party. "If you add all these considerations up," says James Gimpel, a University of Maryland professor who has studied the issue, "new immigrants just make great fodder for building the Democratic Party."
For the Democrats, then, bringing new Latin American immigrants into the country is like importing more Upper West Siders or more sociology Ph.D.s -- it adds directly to the Democratic voter rolls. And once immigrants are signed up there, they are unlikely to leave, since initial partisan impressions are long-lasting. "Everyone is shaped by their environment," says Gimpel. It is one reason that Jews, despite their high income and levels of education, vote like Puerto Ricans, as someone once famously put it.