Iowa sent Michele Bachmann packing and Rick Santorum soaring. Now comes New Hampshire, where Jon Huntsman is already eyeing the Exit sign and Mitt Romney plans on cementing his lead.But, really, so what?
New Hampshire no habla espaņol. Neither does Iowa, for that matter. Both states are about as white non-Hispanic as it gets in this country. Which means that neither one reflects the reality of the presidential elections in 2012.
Latinos make up only about 2 percent of Iowa's population; even less in New Hampshire. Nationally, though, Hispanics account for about 16 percent of the population. More than 21 million are eligible to vote -- although, right now, only about 11 million are actually registered.
So, neither Iowa nor New Hampshire tells the candidates anything about what they can expect in the big and important primary states -- California, Texas, New York, Florida -- which happen to be the states where Hispanics are major forces.
Florida alone will award more delegates to the winner -- 50 -- than Iowa and New Hampshire together. And Latinos constitute about 14 percent of voters there. That's not enough to single- handedly win an election, but it's enough to sway the outcome. That primary, on Jan. 31, will say a lot more about who Hispanics like in the Republican field than the three contests that came before it.
But what it might do is knock out a candidate who has shown he cares about Latinos. A poor enough showing in New Hampshire could permanently damage a candidate's chances to bring in money to continue, even if he doesn't drop out.
So far, only Newt Gingrich seems to be paying much attention to the power of Latino voters. He boldly suggested a "compassionate" approach to the touchy immigration issue. And, as of the moment, he's the only Republican candidate with an official website in Spanish. (Even though, FOUR years ago, he called it a "ghetto" language.)
"Newt Gingrich is even taking Spanish lessons," said political analyst Steffen Schmidt of the University of Iowa, "because he thinks that the Republican Party cannot grow and maintain itself unless it can draw a significant percentage -- whatever that is, 35 percent or so -- of Latino voters."
Romney, on the other hand, seems to be deliberately poking the sleeping Latino lion. In 2008, he had a Spanish-language campaign site, with one of his sons pitching for him in perfectly accented espaņol. This time, no such thing. He also firmly insists that, if he's elected president, he'll veto the DREAM Act. That's an extremely unpopular position among Latinos, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. More than 90 percent of Hispanics surveyed support it.
The other front runners, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum, take a hard line on undocumented immigrants. Both oppose any kind of amnesty. Paul even wants to end "birthright citizenship," so that children born of illegal immigrants would not be U.S. citizens.
Perry walks a confusing middle ground, supporting in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants in Texas, but opposing the DREAM Act on a national level. And having Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio as a supporter is likely to hurt more than help him with Latinos on the immigration issue.
But, as Gloria Estefan sang: that "cuts both ways." Schmidt warned that ignoring Hispanics now might mean Hispanics will ignore them in November.
"This is a very serious problem for the candidates because they are abandoning a group that is pretty important for them," Schmidt said. "The party generally has not positioned itself to do very well with Hispanic voters. It's incomprehensible given the fact that every campaign consultant -- I'm talking Republican consultants -- is aware that as the Hispanic vote grows and becomes a bigger percentage, especially in some of the key states, they've got to have a strategy of reaching out to that community. And they seem to be doing less rather than more."
Source: Terra/Carlos Harrison