By Lamar Smith
Saturday, November 27, 2010; A15
The conventional wisdom has already settled like a blanket over Washington. Allegedly, Hispanics flocked to the polls to punish Republicans for the Arizona immigration law. They "saved" the Senate for Democrats. And on and on. The conventional wisdom, however, is wrong. The 2010 election actually paints a very bright picture of the Republican Party's relations with this country's growing Hispanic population.
Exit polls reported by CNN and updated this week reveal that a historically robust 38 percent of Hispanic voters cast ballots for House Republican candidates in 2010 - more than in 2006 (30 percent) and 2008 (29 percent). In fact, since 1984, Republican House candidates have only won a higher percentage of the Hispanic vote in one election: 2004. This level of Hispanic support for Republican candidates came despite widespread pre-election claims by advocates for illegal immigration that the Arizona law and a pro-rule-of-law stand would undercut Hispanic support for Republicans.
Journalist Shikha Dalmia admitted in Forbes that the 2010 election "casts severe doubts" on the assumption that Hispanics will necessarily be advocates for illegal immigration. "Anti-immigration sentiment," she wrote, is "driven by economic and other fears that have to be addressed anew for every generation regardless of its ethnic make-up."
Hispanics certainly share these fears with all other American workers, and Hispanic workers face the impact of illegal immigration head-on. Among native-born Hispanics without a high school degree, 35 percent are either unemployed, are so discouraged that they have left the labor force or are forced to work part time.
Many Hispanics indeed voted for the very Republican candidates most identified as having a pro-enforcement or anti-amnesty stance. And these Republicans generally did as well as, or better than, the Republicans running for the same positions in the previous election. According to exit polls reported by CNN:
l 55 percent of Hispanic voters in Florida voted for Marco Rubio over Charlie Crist and Kendrick Meek (compared with 41 percent for the Republican Senate candidate in 2006);
l 50 percent voted for Rick Scott over Alex Sink for governor (compared with 49 percent voting for the Republican gubernatorial candidate in 2006);
l 38 percent voted for Rick Perry over Bill White for governor of Texas (up from 31 percent voting for Perry in 2006);
l 30 percent voted for Sharron Angle over Harry Reid in the Nevada Senate race (compared with 27 percent voting for the Republican candidate against Reid in 2004);
l 29 percent voted for Carly Fiorina over Barbara Boxer in the California Senate race (up from 23 percent for the Republican candidate against Boxer in 2004).
l 28 percent voted for Jan Brewer over Terry Goddard for governor of Arizona (compared with 26 percent voting for the Republican candidate in the 2006 governor's race);
What about the much-trumpeted victories of Reid, Boxer, Gov.-elect Jerry Brown (D-Calif.) and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.)? Their Republican opponents lost not because they underperformed among Hispanic voters but because they underperformed among white voters. National exit polls reported by CNN indicated that Republican U.S. House candidates received 60 percent of the white vote overall. But Fiorina and Angle won only 52 percent of the white vote, Ken Buck in Colorado won only 51 percent and California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman won only 50 percent of the white vote. Had each received 60 percent of the white vote, they all would have won
There was a story in the 2010 midterms that many in the media missed. Dalmia found that "one of the hugely under-reported stories of this election is that Republicans fielded far more minority candidates than Democrats - and they won by touting a restrictionist agenda, proof positive that skin color - and even immigration status - are not always correlated with [illegal] immigration views."
Univision anchor Jorge Ramos, one of the most trusted commentators on Spanish-language television, concluded that "the United States moved to the right, and Latino politicians did so too - among them, a new generation of Hispanic Republicans who support policies that are essentially opposed to the undocumented immigrants in this country."
Who are these pro-rule-of-law Hispanic rising stars in the Republican Party? Voters elected Susana Martinez governor of New Mexico, Brian Sandoval governor of Nevada and Florida's Marco Rubio to the U.S. Senate. Bill Flores, Francisco Canseco, Jaime Herrera, Raul Labrador and David Rivera went to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Even the pro-amnesty advocacy group America's Voice admitted that "Republicans can celebrate their victories, and hold up Rubio, Martinez and Sandoval as evidence that Republicans aren't anti-Hispanic because they can get Latino Republicans elected in states with large Hispanic populations."
On many of the most important issues of our day - jobs, education, support for small businesses and the economy - the Republican positions line up with Hispanic values. Republican approaches to better education, small businesses and job creation demonstrate that the GOP will put policy over politics when it comes to Hispanic outreach. The right way to attract Hispanic support is to emphasize our shared values.
The writer, a representative from Texas's 21st District, is the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee.