Why President Obama went to Nevada to talk immigration reform

January 29, 2013

President Obama chose Las Vegas, Nevada to make his big pitch for comprehensive immigration reform on Tuesday. That was not by accident.

There is no state that better typifies the political realities underpinning the fight over immigration reform than the Silver State. The numbers tell the story.

Nevada Secretary of State website
Nevada Secretary of State website

In 2000, Nevada was one of the swingiest states at the presidential level. By 2012, it was an outer-rim swing state at best.  President George W. Bush carried the state in 2000 and 2004 with 49.49 percent and 50.5 percent, respectively. President Obama won Nevada by 12.5 points in 2008 and 6.7 points in 2012.

What happened? Growth -- especially in the Hispanic community  -- happened. Between 2000 and 2010, Nevada added more than 700,000 people or a 35 percent increase in its population. That made it the fastest growing state in the country, according to the 2010 census.

And where did that growth come from? You guessed it: the Hispanic community. In 2000, Hispanics accounted for 19.7 percent of the total Nevada population or roughly 394,000 people. Ten years later, Hispanics were 26.5 percent of Nevada's fast-growing population, accounting for 716,000 total residents.  The Fix is no math major but in the space of ten years, the Nevada Hispanic community almost doubled.

As the Hispanic community was growing, they were also becoming a larger -- and more uniformly Democratic -- part of the state's electorate. Check out this chart that details how -- and in what numbers -- Hispanics in Nevada voted in the four presidential elections between 2000 and 2012:

We've seen that trend line before in a swing state. Just eight years ago, George W. Bush carried New Mexico over Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry.  But, in 2008 Obama won the state by 15 points and this past November he carried the Land of Enchantment by 10 points. The reason New Mexico slipped from the status of swing states? Large-scale growth among Hispanics and further alignment of that vote behind Democrats.

Nevada is headed in that direction and, unless Republicans can find a way to persuade Hispanic voters that the GOP is a welcoming place, it could be as non-competitive as New Mexico by 2016.  Arizona, which has long been a Republican stronghold at the presidential level -- Bill Clinton's win there in 1996 was the only one by a Democrat dating all the way back to 1952 -- could be the new Nevada by that time as well.

Obama went to Nevada then to remind Republicans that they have much more than just policy reasons to find common ground on immigration. If they can't get comprehensive immigration reform passed into law, the presidential campaign won't likely be visiting Nevada any time in the foreseeable future.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Aaron Blake · January 29, 2013