Mirna Orellana, center, celebrates President Barack Obama’s re-election during the democrat’s election night watch party in Salt Lake City. ( AP Photo/Jim Urquhart)

We voted – now let’s get to work, say Latinos after historic vote for Obama

We voted – now let’s get things done.   That was the strong takeaway today from Latino leaders and activists during a discussion of the sweeping and historic Latino vote in yesterday’s election.

“Last night Latinos confirmed unequivocally that the road to the White House goes through Hispanic neighborhoods,” said Clarissa Martinez De Castro, from the National Council of La Raza (NCLR).  “The Latino giant is wide awake, cranky and is taking names,” said labor leader Eliseo Medina, of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

Yesterday’s Latino vote made history in two ways.  Over 12 million Latinos came out to vote, according to preliminary numbers, and for all the handwringing about whether Latinos would have the enthusiasm or numbers to vote, this is a 22 percent increase from 2008.  Just over 10 percent of the nation’s voters were Hispanic.

Moreover, President Obama received 75 percent of the Latino vote, according to impreMedia/Latino Decisions exit polls, thus obtaining the highest number of Latino voters; President Clinton received about 72 percent in 1996.

These numbers translated to a “watershed moment,” in the words of Latino Decisions co-principal and Stanford University political scientist Gary Segura.  For the first time in history, Segura explained, the Latino vote can plausibly claim to be nationally decisive in the presidential election.   Latinos gave a 5.3 percent bump to President Obama, according to Latino Decisions’ numbers.  This was crucial in battleground states with close margins between Obama and Romney.

Had Latinos been more evenly divided, those states like Colorado, Florida, New Mexico, and Nevada might have flipped to Romney, Segura explained.   Not only did Latinos play a crucial role in sending Obama back to the White House, but they also were a decisive factor in key Senate races.   In New Mexico, Democrat Martin Heinrich joins Colorado’s Michael Bennet and Nevada’s Harry Reid “to directly owing his seat to the Latino vote,” said Segura, since almost 40 percent of the turnout were Latino voters.

So how does this historic Latino vote impact the policies and legislation coming out of the White House and Congress?  Latinos point out Obama’s victory is clearly a result of Latino voter support on key issues and policies.

President Obama won Latino support ‘the old-fashioned way,’ said SEIU’s Eliseo Medina – by supporting immigration reform, health care legislation and education initiatives, which resonated with Latino voters, according to the latest impreMedia/Latino Decisions poll.  Sixty six percent of registered Hispanic voters believe the federal government should ensure access to health care, and 61 percent support keeping the Affordable Care Act.  Only one out of four Latinos thought people should provide their own health insurance.  On how to reduce the deficit, more than four out of ten Hispanics believe you need a combination of spending cuts and tax increases; only 12 percent of Latinos advocate spending cuts without higher taxes.

Immigration was second to the economy as a top issue for Latino voters.  Recently Rudy Lopez, national political director of the Campaign for Community Change, who worked with grassroots groups who registered hundreds of thousands of new Latino voters, said immigration reform was the “connective tissue”which galvanized many Latino voters.

Today, Latino leaders minced no words.   “For Latinos, 60 percent of whom know someone who is undocumented, this is personal – we are ready for solutions,” says NCLR’s Clarissa Martinez De Castro, who added “the current environment is ripe for reform.”

Just like yesterday’s vote was a clear endorsement of Democratic policy stances, many say it is a time for Republicans to reassess their message and their tones to the growing Hispanic electorate.

On Hispanics’ clear repudiation of Republican stances on immigration issues, political scientist Gary Segura said it pretty clearly.  “Republicans need to make this go away – or it will be a persistent electoral Gollum for them.” In fact, Segura says, their numbers show Mitt Romney forfeited just under 2 percent of the popular vote,  when one compares polls of Latinos’ strong disapproval of Romney’s immigration views and the lower number of votes he received from Hispanics, especially compared to other Republican presidents like George W. Bush.

“In my opinion, there is a big, flashing warning sign for Republicans that they are headed for a cliff,” says SEIU’s Medina. “If Republicans want to be a viable party, they need to do right with Latinos,” he said.

In the end, though, legislation requires action from both parties.  Here, leaders are banking on the possibility that Latinos’ increasing political clout helps propel lawmakers to roll up their sleeves.

“Latino voters are a permanent part of the political equation,” said NCLR’s Martinez De Castro.  She said she is hoping Latinos’ desire for common sense legislation helps “rebuild the political space” to provide solutions,  in what has been a pretty divisive time in Washington.

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