Democrats Consoled by Latino vote in Republican 'Game Changer'

For the third straight election, Latinos picked Democrats over Republicans by about 2-to-1

Along with sweeping Republican gains in the U.S. House, two political realities emerged in this year's midterm elections with longer-term repercussions for both parties — one positive, one negative for each.

For Republicans, the wave of support extended to state capitals. The party won control of 25 state legislatures — powered by pickups of about 700 state legislative slots — and 29 governor's offices. Next year, states will use data from the 2010 Census to determine the boundaries for House seats, a redistricting process that now is likely to benefit Republicans for the next 10 years.

"It's a game changer," said Benjamin Ginsberg, a partner at Patton Boggs LLP in Washington and former counsel to President George W. Bush's 2000 and 2004 campaigns. "If you are thinking about redistricting, this is the election to have a wave."

For Democrats, exit polling of voters in the Nov. 2 elections confirmed this positive trend for the party: For the third straight election, Latinos picked Democrats over Republicans by a ratio of about 2-to-1, strengthening the party's hold on this increasingly important voting bloc.

Nationwide, Hispanics are the biggest — and the fastest- growing — minority group. The Census Bureau estimates their numbers have more than doubled in the U.S. since 1990, to about 48 million. They comprise about 10 percent of the national electorate, double from 20 years ago, and that figure should double again in 20 years, said Fernand Amandi, a Miami-based political consultant and pollster who specializes in the Hispanic vote, citing Census data.

Reid Win

In Nevada, exit polling shows that Hispanic voters helped Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid hold on to his seat. They also proved crucial to wins by Democratic Senators Barbara Boxer in California, Michael Bennet in Colorado and Patty Murray in Washington, Amandi said.

"I wouldn't have been surprised if Harry Reid gave his victory speech in Spanish," he said. "The Democrats today owe their majority in the Senate to the Hispanic vote."

Hispanic voters veered from that trend in Florida, where Republican Senator-elect Marco Rubio, the son of working-class Cuban immigrants, won 55 percent of the Latino vote. The Hispanic vote in Florida has traditionally tilted Republican because of the political leanings of the Cuban-American community there, according to the Washington-based Pew Hispanic Center.

Republicans gained six U.S. Senate seats, short of the 10 they needed for the majority. In the new Senate, Democrats will control 53 seats, Republicans 47.

House Gains

Republicans picked up at least 60 seats in the new House, with the outcomes of eight races pending. The party needed a gain of 39 seats to take control of the chamber from Democrats.

Hispanics chose Democrats over Republican candidates, 64 percent to 34 percent nationwide, according to figures from the Pew Hispanic Center.

Polling by Pew shows that about half of registered Latino voters say Democrats care more about their concerns, compared with 6 percent who say Republicans care more. The remainder finds no difference between the parties on that question.

Opposition to comprehensive immigration legislation by many Republicans is among the issues motivating Latino voters, Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice, a Washington- based group that favors an immigration overhaul, said in a statement after the election.

William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said Hispanic voters are becoming increasingly important in such states as California, Colorado and Nevada.

Voter Percentages

While Hispanics made up 8 percent of the national electorate, they constituted 22 percent in California, 15 percent in Nevada and 13 percent in Colorado, according to exit polls.

"The fastest-growing parts of our population are young people and Hispanics," Frey said. "Republicans still didn't do as well among those groups."

Democrats will be counting on support from Hispanics to blunt the effects of the Republican-led redistricting in many states. Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, though, said the party's power at the state level will leave it well-positioned to improve its chances of taking over more House seats from Democrats in future elections.

'Solidifying' Gains

"You're looking at solidifying the gains we made on Tuesday and probably adding potentially another 10, 15 or so seats," he said in an interview on Bloomberg Television's "Political Capital with Al Hunt."

The gains at the state level will help Republicans in other ways, said Republican strategist Scott Reed, who managed Bob Dole's 1996 presidential campaign.

New control of the governor's office in states including Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and Iowa will help give an edge to the Republican presidential candidate in 2012, he said.

President Barack Obama carried each of these states in the 2008 presidential election. They accounted for 75 of the 365 electoral votes he won, with 270 needed for election.

In the 2012 race, the Republican nominee "will have a governor who knows the states and knows the issues and can help" the candidate, Reed said.

"The electoral map looks totally different for President Obama and his re-election team," he said.