August 20, 2013

If Republicans kill immigration reform, could it result in a 2014 cycle that sees uncommonly high Latino turnout for a midterm election — high enough to possibly tip the House to Democrats?

Nope.

One way to try to understand the situation is with this question: How many GOP-held House districts vulnerable to changing sides have large enough Latino populations to ensure that high Latino turnout in 2014 could swing the outcome?

As it turns out, not too many. A grand total of eight, and that’s if you include multiple races that Democrats are all but certainly not going to win.

Given that Dems need to flip 17 seats to take back the House — and will be defending a host of Dem-held seats against GOP challenges at the same time — this is less than encouraging.

This way of looking at the landscape was suggested to me by David Wasserman, who tracks House races for the non-partisan Cook Political Report. Cook lists a total of 12 GOP-held districts that Dems have a real chance of flipping into their column.

Of those 12, only five have large enough Latino populations to plausibly make a difference. I’ve listed them below, along with the Latino percentage of the vote (based on Wasserman’s useful breakdown of 2010 census data):

* CA-31: Gary Miller, 49.44 percent Latino.

* CA-21: David Valadao, 70.96 Latino.

* CO-06, Mike Coffman, 19.72 percent Latino.

* NV-03, Joe Heck, 15.66 percent Latino.

* NY-11, Michael  Grimm, 15.68 Latino.

The remaining seven GOP-held districts are less than 10 percent Latino, and in many of them the percentage is extremely low. And so, of the seats Dems have a shot at flipping, only five of them might be made more accessible by high Latino turnout.

Meanwhile, let’s be very generous to Democrats and widen the pool of districts we’re seeing as possible pickups for them. Cook Political lists another 17 GOP-held seats in the “Likely Republican” category, making them possible pickups if things trend very heavily towards Democrats next year. How many of them have high percentages of Latinos? Three:

* CA-10, Jeff Denham, 40.08 Latino.

* FL-10, Daniel Webster, 16.07 Latino.

* NE-02, Lee Terry, 10.17 Latino.

All of those other 17 have Latino percentages in the low to mid single digits (Lee Terry of Nebraska is up around 10 percent but that’s not high enough.

Bottom line: Of 29 districts that can very generously be called Democratic pick-up opportunities, only eight have large enough Latino percentages for high Latino turnout to make a difference.

Wasserman emails me some additional thoughts:

Keep in mind, Latino voters turned out in record numbers in 2012 and gave Democratic candidates record levels of support. In spite of that, Republican candidates won all 29 of the above seats during the very same election. Latino turnout as a share of the overall midterm electorate typically declines markedly versus the last presidential election, and even maintaining 2012 shares would not be enough to flip seats.

Bottom line: The universes of Latino voters and vulnerable House Republicans hardly overlap.

All of this is a stark reminder of just how insulated House Republicans — even many vulnerable ones — are in the short term from the tides of demographic change that over time will continue to transform national elections. Worse, many of the above Republicans in high-Latino districts are the very ones who are actually embracing immigration reform in some capacity.

To be sure, if Republicans kill immigration reform, they very well may pay a steep price for it in the 2016 presidential race, and it’s quite possible that such an outcome could lock in Latino anti-GOP hostility towards the Republican Party for a generation or more. That could have severe consequences for the party over time. Indeed, you could argue that the degree to which House Republicans are insulated from such demographic considerations in the near term could prevent them from solving a problem that could extract an extremely serious toll later.

But if Republicans do kill immigration reform, we may have to wait awhile before we see the electoral consequences of it for the party. We’ll all but certainly have to wait until after 2014.

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UPDATE: It’s obviously true, as Dems point out, that non-Latino voters could care about immigration reform, too. As Cook’s Wasserman put it to me:

If the House GOP suffers blowback for “killing” comprehensive reform, it wouldn’t be because of Latino voters’ anger; it would have to be because suburban whites view House Republicans as much more extreme on immigration and a whole host of other social issues than they did just last year.

The point of the above analysis is to show just how insulated many House Republicans are from broader national demographic considerations and that even a large Latino turnout in 2014 wouldn’t change that for them.

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.