How did Republican senatorial candidates Ken Buck in Colorado and Sharron Angle in Nevada enter election day with leads in the polls, yet after the day was done had lost to their Democratic opponents? How did Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer score victories by much larger than expected margins in California? Why was Tom Tancredo an easy loser in the Colorado governor’s race? A day after the election, the New York Times was mulling over the question of how the pollsters and the media had blown it so bad. The answer is that they grossly under-estimated the impact of the Latino vote both in numbers and the effect of anti-Latino political and media propaganda on Latino voters. While the Times expressed surprise over the higher percentage of the vote that was Latino in at least four states in the West, elsewhere it was noted that where anti-Latino sentiment and demonizing propaganda was the strongest, Democrats in general received 85-90 percent of the Latino vote; this proved to be the key factor in Harry Reid’s win in Nevada and Michael Bennet’s in Colorado.
If there was a larger Latino presence in the state of Washington, they might have made the Patty Murray/Dino Rossi race less mysterious—especially if there was a sufficiently large demographic that was aware of the Seattle Times’ habit of filling its flimsy pages with stories of violence and mayhem that allegedly is “normal” life in Mexico, rather than the truth that it is focused in three major drug trade urban centers. Mexicans and Mexican immigrants are rarely humanized; journalist Linda Ellerbee, commenting on this saturation of negative news and demonization, observed that during her stays in Mexico “I walk the streets of my Puerto Vallarta neighborhood alone day or night. And I don't live in a gated community, or any other All-Gringo neighborhood. I live in Mexico. Among Mexicans. I go where I want (which does not happen to include bars where prostitution and drugs are the basic products), and take no more precautions than I would at home in New York; which is to say I don't wave money around, I don't act the Ugly American, I do keep my eyes open, I'm aware of my surroundings, and I try not to behave like a fool.” Like the Times and the readers it is trying to “educate” apparently are (as an aside, I also noted that according to her Wiki page, the feminist Ellerbee was married three times for a total of six years).
Although several Latinos in the Republican Party were also winners on Tuesday, it is easy to over-estimate their significance. Marco Rubio, the claimant for the Senate seat from Florida, is a white Cuban-American, a demographic that tends conservative and Republican. Susana Martinez and Brian Sandoval won governorships in New Mexico and Nevada, but whatever support they have from their state’s Latino voters is tenuous at best; both received a sizable minority of the Latino vote, but this could quickly change if they follow-through on their anti-Latino immigrant rhetoric in the whiter-than-white manner. Martinez has been accused of “moderating” her stance on immigration in order to attract Latino votes while concealing her true intentions, and Sandoval has already alienated many Latino voters by boasting that his children “look white;” injecting racism and the “I’m not one of THEM” plea into the conversation is bound to have a negative effect. In Washington, Jaime Herrera, a novice without an apparent plan beyond the talking points, defeated a more experienced Democratic opponent for a previously Democratic-held House seat based upon what I could only conjecture is her looks; when asked about her “ethnicity,” Herrera makes certain first and foremost that you know her mother is Anglo-white. The reality is that the majority of Latino voters—especially those who are indigenous and mixed race, that is to say, the “brown ones”—are more sensitive to the racial propaganda of the right, which includes the Tea Party and white (or white wannabe) Latinos. One Latino voter told the Las Vegas Sun that he was motivated to go out and vote for Reid because of Sharron Angle’s anti-Latino campaign ads; a seven-year veteran in the Marine Corps, he took strong exception to being portrayed as a “gang member.”
There is a message here for Democrats, but especially for Barack Obama. Appointing a Latino to the Supreme Court is mere window dressing; it doesn’t address the issues for which two-thirds of Latino voters thought were on his agenda. Immigration raids continue unabated, in fact stronger than ever, without even faint “praise” or acknowledgment from the right. We seem no closer to a reform package that fixes a nonsensical immigration policy. Yet Latino voters in Colorado, Nevada and California ensured that the Democrats retain control of the Senate. The question now is what are Democrats going to do to acknowledge that debt? Or will they throw away their advantage by doing nothing?