Last night, GOP candidates won a number of key Senate, House and gubernatorial races as well as a majority in the House of Representatives. The night, however, wasn’t a total wash for the Democratic Party who managed to hold onto a majority in the Senate. Headlining the Senate races, Nevada Senator Harry Reid held onto his seat against Tea Party flag bearer Sharron Angle, whose seemingly endless stream of anti-immigrant campaign attack ads went from bad to worse. In a state where roughly 1 in 4 residents is Latino, many are chalking up Sen. Reid’s victory to the power of the Latino vote. Early polling seems to indicate that the Latino vote helped secure several key races for Democrats out west (in CA, CO, NV), but not across the board necessarily. Although trending Democratic, the Latino vote was not enough to win gubernatorial races in New Mexico or Nevada. So what gives? What does it take to successfully court the Latino vote?

LatinoDecisions, an independent survey research firm, released early polling data today which credits the Latino vote for several key Democratic victories. According to the poll:

  • In Nevada, Democratic Senator Harry Reid defeated Sharron Angle with 90% of the Latino vote.
  • In California, Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer defeated Carly Fiorina with 86% of the Latino vote, as did Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown who defeated Meg Whitman with 86% of the Latino vote.
  • In Colorado, Democratic Senate candidate Michael Bennet defeated Ken Buck with 81% of the Latino vote, while Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Hickenlooper defeated Dan Maes and Tom Tancredo with 77% of the Latino vote.

The early polling also reveals that the Latino vote is not monolithic, nor does it secure a victory or trend strictly Democratic. Florida Republican Senate candidate Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban exiles, defeated Kendrick Meek with 62% of the Latino vote. Likewise, plenty of Democratic candidates had the Latino vote, but lost their elections. And while it might be easy to say that candidates who use extreme anti-immigrant rhetoric (Meg Whitman in California, Sharron Angle in Nevada, Tom Tancredo in Colorado) lost elections because they alienated the Latino vote, look at Republican Gov. Jan Brewer who signed Arizona’s SB1070 and yet still won her seat in Arizona without winning the Latino vote (Democrat Terry Goddard captured 85% of the Latino vote).

That being said, political parties must remain cognizant of their narrative on immigration and Latino issues—after all, Latinos comprised 7.9% (or 11.6 million) of all registered voters in the U.S. at last count and continue to grow as an essential voting bloc in winning presidential elections. The rhetoric of some notorious Republican immigration hardliners doesn’t square with the Republican Party’s more tempered stance on immigration in their recent pre-election Pledge to America—hardly the same narrative. In fact, part of the Republican Party’s challenge in courting the Latino vote is quelling the fringe right on immigration.

So while securing the Latino vote won’t guarantee you electoral victories, courting it certainly can’t hurt. For both parties, courting the Latino vote must not only involve reining in the fringe and turning down the fear-mongering, but some honest to God passes at immigration reform. Without actual efforts to address the immigration issue, Democrats and Republicans are likely lose Latinos—kind of like saying you’ll call, but never following through. And one of these days, they might not get another date.

Photo by blueacid.