LAS VEGAS — There is ample evidence that over time Republicans have gained ground with Latinos in some parts of the country, including Florida. But in the South West, an opposite trend has set in that could have implications for 2024 and beyond.
In Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado, Latinos have remained loyal to Democrats, helping propel party gains in a region where Latino population growth has exploded.
It belies a conventional narrative that Democrats were universally yielding Latino voters to the Republican Party, a story repeated throughout the run-up to the Nov. 8 midterm elections.
Instead, indicators show the GOP stands to lose Latino voters in that region, a prospect that could mean being shut out of the Southwest in the long run.
The Southwest was once dark red territory. But the Republicans are struggling to regain their grip. That’s partly because they’ve alienated Latinos by taking tougher stances, including on immigration, according to Simon Rosenberg, a longtime Democratic strategist who was part of the party’s first team who helped develop modern strategies to reach Latinos. voters. Rosenberg said the Southwest today is a far cry from what it once was under former President George W. Bush.
“It used to be hostile ground for us,” Rosenberg said. “Over the past 20 years, the Republican position has deteriorated dramatically in the Southwest. And it is indisputable. »
Take the once-reliable red Arizona. Prior to 2018, U.S. Senate seats and all statewide office holders were Republican. Today, Democrats won both Senate seats and the governor’s mansion – something that hasn’t happened in more than 70 years, said Mike Noble, an independent pollster who has done extensive research. in the southwestern region.
“The GOP could potentially lose the Southwest for decades to come if they don’t position themselves better among Hispanics and Latinos,” Noble said. “Republicans are at a critical juncture right now where they have to decide which route they’re going. Are they going the MAGA route? Or are they going the route of that traditional old Goldwater conservative, business-oriented approach that really has them left winners?”
Noble pointed to longtime Arizona Republicans.
A review of election results and exit polls, as well as interviews with campaign officials, data analysts and strategists point to a hardening phenomenon in the United States: Latino voters exhibit complexities that vary widely from region to region and, in some cases, state to state. While the November 8 election data is not yet finalized and the allegiance of the Latino electorate is the subject of endless debate, a major lesson for 2024 is that there are layers of nuance in the Latino votes that are difficult to capture in national polls.
An analysis by Equis Research, which examines the voting habits of Latinos, found strong support for Democrats in places like Nevada and Arizona. His analysis too showed that in Philadelphia, Democratic Senator-elect John Fetterman outperformed Joe Biden’s 2020 results with Latinos. In Florida, it was a different story. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis won re-election, winning the Latino vote handily, including 68% of Cuban Americans, according to NBC News’ exit poll.
“An overarching story that emerged from this election is that voters had different stories depending on where you are in the country,” said Mark Hugo Lopez, director of race and ethnicity at the Pew Research Center. , about Latinos. “There are many local stories here to tell about Latino voters that the national numbers mask.”
Hugo Lopez pointed out the unique characteristics of Latinos in different parts of the country. In Florida, there are larger populations of Cubans who fled communism and tend to vote more conservatively. There, Republicans have focused and reached out to the community for decades, especially around foreign policy issues, he said. In states like Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico, there are large populations of second-, third-, or more-generation families of Mexican descent.
“That may shape some of the ways that Hispanic voters, especially those who might be the children of immigrants, engage in politics, whether it’s because of policy issues around undocumented immigrants and also issues like DACA,” Lopez added, referring to President Barack Obama’s administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects undocumented youth brought here by their parents from deportation.
In Arizona, the Democratic sweep came despite fears that Latino support has dwindled and that it would boost Republicans statewide, said Rep. Ruben Gallego, an Arizona Democrat who chairs the BOLD PAC. , the campaign arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
“Something like that only happens when you have strong Latino support,” he said.
Chuck Coughlin, a GOP pollster in Arizona, blamed Republicans’ MAGA dominance on the ballot, saying candidates such as Kari Lake, who lost his gubernatorial race, campaigned on exclusionary ideals that Latino voters rejected.
“I have not seen for 16, a MAGA candidate win with this constituency. It just doesn’t happen,” Coughlin said. “This is to tell you that you are not accepted here. Literally, it’s like Kari Lake throwing McCain’s Republicans out of the room. Well, she got her wish.
“Without leadership change, Republicans will continue to lose,” he added.
In New Mexico, the state with the most residents identifying as Hispanic or Latino in the country, Latino Democrats won nearly every race statewide. The party flipped the state’s 2nd congressional district, a Latino-majority district that stretches along the US border with Mexico, and rebuffed a Republican challenge in the 3rd congressional district.
In Colorado, Latinos have helped spark the idea that the state is no longer a swing state but is turning blue. The Democrats secured a Senate seat and won the gubernatorial seat by double digits. The party now holds two-thirds of the seats in the state legislature.
Nevada Republicans, despite repeatedly predicting they would close the gap with Latino voters, instead watched Latinos help propel a Latina, Catherine Cortez Masto, into re-election, which swung the US Senate to the Democrats. The new Democratic Secretary of State, Cisco Aguilar, is the first Latino elected to this position in Nevada. The state elected a Republican Governor, Joe Lombardo, a victory that was largely fueled by deep anger over incumbent Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak’s shutdown of the state during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“There is no doubt that they played a major role in my re-election. Latinos in Nevada make up one-third of the population,” Cortez Masto said. “What I know from our community is that they want to know you’re on their side. They want to engage all the time. You cannot show up at the last minute. They want to know that you are there, that you understand the issues, and that you can fight for them.
Part of Cortez Masto’s campaign strategy was to start early with Spanish media advertising, with the first ad airing in March. A conservative group announced a $2 million investment in Spanish-language ads to support Laxalt, but that wasn’t until much later in the game. But there’s also evidence that Republican engagement with Latinos in Nevada is not as strong as in Texas and Florida, although Republicans in Nevada have pointed to their investments in building community centers as part of their secret to success.
Several members of the Republican Party of Nevada, which is led by the national party, touted their local community center in Las Vegas, but when asked, they could not identify its location. The one-time visits five times at different times of the day were short-lived: the door to the one-room office was closed.
When NBC News finally found it open and walked in, it was mostly an empty room, apart from a staff member sitting at a table with a puppy that wandered off and crashed on the floor. The staff member seemed surprised by a visitor, then directed the reporter to another location to ask questions. At this location, another staff member offered the phone number of an official who did not respond to a request for comment. The site did, however, host events around the election, including for ultimately unsuccessful GOP Senate candidate Adam Laxalt.
“I think the engagement we’re seeing with Hispanic and Asian voters in Clark County is going to make a difference,” Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel predicted, speaking to NBC News, ahead of the election. Laxalt ended up losing to Cortez Masto by some 8,000 votes. Even with some Latino voters staying home, NBC News exit polls showed Cortez Masto won more than 60% of that vote.
Still, there are plenty of danger signs for Democrats when it comes to Latino voters, especially among men. Dan Sena, whose company Sena Kozar Strategies was involved in Spanish and English ads as well as strategy for races in the Southwest, said if there is erosion within the Democratic Party, it will is among Latino men.
“The good news is at least in New Mexico, they have been strongly persuaded throughout the campaigns. We were able to help win them back in relatively larger numbers,” Sena said. But he predicted it would be a fight that comes up every election year. “The challenge we have is that you can’t treat them like they’re grassroots voters. Hispanic men are no longer grassroots voters. They are real persuasive voters.