In the Loop: Hispanics are hanging tough with Obama

Al Kamen
Columnist October 11, 2012

President Obama’s national poll numbers have dropped since his dismal performance — and Mitt Romney’s bravura showing — in their first debate last week.

But going into the Oct. 3 debate, Obama’s support among Latino voters — a critical segment in several swing states — showed a commanding 3-1 edge over the Republican presidential nominee, according to a Pew Hispanic Center poll released Thursday.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

It’s unlikely that the debate has eroded that advantage.

“Support for the president has remained strong throughout” the 2012 campaign, said Mark Hugo Lopez, the center’s associate director, and that support hasn’t budged much in the last year.

The poll of 903 registered voters, conducted from Sept. 7 to Oct. 4, has Obama leading Romney 69 to 21 percent. Depending on how the remaining 9 percent — who were undecided or refused to respond — break, Obama’s Latino vote percentage could reach the mid-70s — substantially higher than his 67 percent Latino support in the 2008 election.

Some 23.7 million Hispanics are eligible to vote, the survey noted, an increase of more than 4 million in the past four years, making them 11 percent of the total eligible electorate.

But Latino turnout at the polls generally lags that of other groups, the report said, and only 77 percent said they were “absolutely certain” to vote this time, compared with 89 percent of all registered voters in a separate Pew Research Center nationwide survey taken at the same time.

As a result, there may be “more Latino votes in this election,” Lopez said, but their overall percentage of the electorate may not increase substantially.

Obama leads 72 to 22 percent among Latino registered voters who say they are “absolutely certain” to vote.

The Pew poll also found that:

●Despite the controversy over new photo ID laws in 11 states, some 95 percent of Latino registered voters in those states said they were confident they had the identification they needed to vote. The poll found 71 percent of Latinos favor photo ID laws, compared with 77 percent of the general public.

●Obama’s “Dream Act” executive order, which allows Hispanics who came here as children to remain in the country, was supported by 86 percent of Latino registered voters, and 26 percent of Latino adults say they know someone who has applied to stay under the new program.

●Half or more of Latino registered voters said education (55 percent), jobs and the economy (54 percent) and health care (50 percent) were “extremely important,” while one-third or more of those voters ranked the deficit (36 percent) immigration (34 percent) and taxes (33 percent) as extremely important. (Excluding Cubans, who can easily obtain residency status, and Puerto Ricans, who are citizens, the percentage that considers immigration “extremely important” rises to 37 percent.)

Pro-forma explanation

Let’s put aside for a moment the scandal swirling around Rep. Scott DesJarlais and focus on something far wonkier. Yes, we know the controversy in which the Tennessee Republican is embroiled involves the salacious words “mistress” and “abortion,” making it hard to resist, but we had best clear up a curious parliamentary matter first.

We noticed that DesJarlais’s campaign spokesman had told a hometown paper last month that he would not be able to debate his Democratic challenger on Oct. 11 because duty had called him to Washington on that date.

According to the Daily News Journal of Murfreesboro, Tenn.: “He . . . will be presiding over a pro-forma session of Congress Oct. 11 in Washington, D.C. . . . ‘As a result, we will not be attending these [debate] events,’ DesJarlais campaign manager Brandon Lewis said.”

First of all, just about anyone with a passing knowledge of House procedure knows that presiding over a pro-forma session isn’t exactly a special-ops mission. “It’s the definition of perfunctory,” one former leadership aide explained to the Loop.

Often, it’s handled by a local lawmaker, someone whose commute from the Maryland or Virginia ’burbs isn’t too taxing — or by a member planning to be in town on other business. They’ll cruise in, bang the gavel, listen to the chaplain’s prayer, say the pledge, then close the session a scant few moments later. DesJarlais did the honors last Friday, when he brushed off two Democrats’ efforts to speak.

Not only could anyone wield the gavel, it turns out that there was no pro-forma session Thursday, after all. The next one, we’re told, will be on Friday.

DesJarlais’s congressional spokesman now says the big draw to Washington was really the hearing yesterday by the House Oversight and Investigations committee on the Libya bombings, not the gavel duty.

DesJarlais only volunteered to preside, spokesman Robert Jameson said, knowing that he would be in town for the hearing. The hearing hadn’t been scheduled when his campaign cited the trip to Washington, though the spokesman said he knew it was “in the pike.”

And now he plans to preside over the Friday session instead, Jameson says.

A grateful nation awaits.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/intheloop. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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