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Latino Decisions: Democrats Missing Opportunities in Top Tier Latino Districts

Recent polling conducted by Latino Decisions continues to find that comprehensive immigration reform is an animating issue for Latino voters and if immigration reform does not happen this year, most Latino voters will hold the Republican Party responsible.  Yet, the ability of Latinos and other pro-immigration reform voters to reward or punish members of Congress for their handling of immigration necessitates a competitive electoral environment where marginal shifts in both the composition and preferences of the electorate can make the difference.

Earlier, we identified seats in the House of Representatives held by both Democrats and Republicans that were closely contested in 2012 and that have significant shares of voting age Latinos.  As we argued at the time, it is in these “Latino influence districts” where the dynamics of immigration reform are expected to be most salient come November.  Now, as primary season begins to wane and the fall match-ups take shape, we can begin to assess these districts in more detail.

Unfortunately, for immigration reform advocates there are likely to be fewer opportunities to exert electoral accountability for either the passage or failure of comprehensive immigration reform than our initial analysis suggested.  Much of this stems from the difficulty that the Democratic Party is having fielding and funding quality candidates in many Latino influence districts.

Most notably, last week Democrat Lee Rogers failed to finish in the top two in the eight-candidate jungle primary for California’s 25th district.  With Buck McKeon’s retirement, the seat presented an opportunity for the Democrats to further assert their dominance over California’s House’s delegation and more importantly, replace in Congress an inconsistent supporter of immigration reform.[1]  Instead, it will be two Republicans on the ballot in November competing to represent a district that narrowly went for Romney in 2012 (1.9%) and that is home to a 2010 Latino voting age population of 32%.

Perhaps no state better illustrates the Democrats’ recruitment woes than Florida.  The Democrats will not have a candidate in Florida’s 13th district.  Instead, two minor party candidates will challenge Republican David Jolly, who narrowly won the seat this winter in a special election.  The swing district has a 2010 Latino voting age population of 7% and was narrowly carried by Obama (1.5%) in 2012.

In Florida’s 10th, three lackluster Democrats are competing in the August primary to face Daniel Webster.  Webster won in 2012 by 3.4% while underperforming Mitt Romney by 3.3% in a district with a 2010 Latino voting age population of over 14%.  The Democrats also struggled to recruit a quality challenger in Florida’s 16th before first-time candidate and former professional football player Henry Lawrence filed to run against Vern Buchanan.  Buchanan won in 2012 by 7% in a district with a 2010 Latino voting
age population of 9%.  While Webster has come out in favor of a pathway to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants, he, like Buchanan voted in favor of Steve King’s DACA amendments (see note one).

The Democrats also will not have a candidate in North Carolina’s 9th district to compete against incumbent Robert Pittenger.  Pittenger ran seven points behind Romney in 2012 in a district with a small but growing Latino voting age population.

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