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Do Democrats owe their hold on the Senate to Hispanic voters?

By Krissah Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 4, 2010; 4:24 PM

Did Hispanics save the Senate for Democrats?

The question is being batted around as political analysts continue to crunch numbers after Tuesday's election. The widespread thumping of Democrats on Election Day stalled in Nevada and California - states with sizable Hispanic populations.

According to exit polls, Hispanics turned out in strong numbers in those states and were more willing than usual to support Democrats.

In his Senate campaign against tea party candidate Sharron Angle, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) won 68 percent of the Hispanic vote in Nevada - up from 60 percent in 2004. Sen. Barbara Boxer drew 65 percent of the California Hispanic vote for her win over Carly Fiorina.

Also in California, Gov.-elect Jerry Brown beat Republican Meg Whitman with the help of 64 percent of Hispanic voters.

Pollsters who interview voters in both English and Spanish measured even higher support for Reid, reporting that he won 90 percent of the Hispanic vote. Turnout among Hispanics was also up in Nevada, where Hispanic voters made up about 15 percent of the electorate. (Full turnout figures for that state are not yet available.)

The turnout numbers suggest that Hispanics were inspired by debate over immigration, said Matt A. Barreto, a professor of political science at the University of Washington. Angle's campaign aired a series of ads attacking Reid on illegal immigration, drawing criticism from Hispanic civil rights groups. And Angle had a late campaign faux-pas while talking to Hispanic students at Rancho High School in Las Vegas, telling the students that some of them looked "more Asian" to her.

"There was a historic increase," in Hispanic voters, Barreto said. "If Latinos continue to vote at that high rate for Democrats in Nevada, Republicans are going to have a very, very hard time. Latinos are very engaged."

In California, Hispanic groups worked hard for Democrats. On Election Day, CHIRLA Action Fund, which has registered 76,000 Hispanic voters since 2004, knocked on doors and made thousands of phone calls reminding Hispanics to go to the polls.

Rudy Lopez, political director for the Campaign for Community Change - which helped mobilize Hispanic voters - said: "We have invested heavily in infrastructure, new organizations on the ground, training and capacity building. We will now turn over that infrastructure to focus on 2012. This is just the beginning."

In states where Republicans fielded Hispanic candidates, the party did significantly better with Hispanic voters. In New Mexico, where Susana Martinez (R) became the first Latina governor, Republicans won more than one-third of the Hispanic vote. In Florida, tea party-backed Marco Rubio won the Senate seat with 55 percent of the Hispanic vote, according to exit polls.

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