There are lots of places in the country where Republicans had a great election day and have a bright future, but not the nation’s largest state, California. In several Western states, the combination of Latino voters and a still potent and highly competent labor movement that draws on the energy and numbers of those voters provided Democrats with a—lazy political cliché coming right now—firewall against even worse losses on Tuesday.
Jerry Brown, Barbara Boxer, Harry Reid, and Michael Bennet benefited. Arguably, labor and Latinos were the difference between victory and defeat for all of them. As David Frum noted on election night, Latinos are very much interested in bread and butter issues, and merely focusing on resolving the immigration issue does not guarantee their support. But, for many Latinos of Mexican and Central American origin, it does appear to be a threshold issue of fairness and equity. And even white people in California oppose a punitive approach. Despite the fact that 62% of voters in California were white and 22% Latino, by 67-24, voters said illegal immigrants should be offered legal status, rather than deported
Unlike much of the rest of the country, the California electorate was demographically similar to that of 2008. Although the 18-29 vote was way down, slightly less white voters (62%) went to the polls this year than did so two years ago (63%). But California’s union density remains substantial (over 17%, post-recession, 40% higher than the national figure, and, in absolute terms, the highest in the country at 2.5 million), And the union’s superb ground game—especially in the vote heavy Los Angeles and San Francisco regions—contributed to an increase in the Latino vote over 2008 from 18% to 22%. Meg Whitman beat Brown among white people by 4%, and Carly Fiorina beat Boxer in the same cohort by 9%. But Brown and Boxer each won the 22% of voters who are Latino by about 35%. (Unfortunately, California exit polls did not break out the union or union household vote).
Nevada was an even starker example of the Latino/Labor difference. Sharon Angle carried white Nevadans by 12%. But Reid won Latinos—15% of the vote—by 38% according to the exit polls, or, according to other analysts who questioned the methodology of the exit polls, by an astounding 90-10. And union households voted at an 18% clip and Reid won that cohort—heavily overlapping with Latinos — also by 38%, while merely breaking even with Angle among non-union household voters, 48-48. The Culinary Workers Union, based in Las Vegas (mostly housekeepers working in the large casinos on Las Vegas’s “Strip”), is probably the single most organized and potent political force in the state, and was critical in bring Reid back from the dead.
In Colorado, we have the least data, but it is still suggestive. It should be noted that 54% of Colorado voters thought that Ken Buck was “too extreme,” a catastrophic number even in a state where a 41% plurality supported the Tea Party.Yet, despite the extremist label, Buck still carried the 81% of the electorate that identified as white by 3%. 13% of Colorado voters were Latino, but the exit polls did not break down this vote. However, the obvious inference is that Bennet carried this vote by a wide enough margin to overcome Buck’s edge among the much larger white cohort. (Union density in Colorado is just 7%, well below the national figure. Unions did not play as significant a role here as they did in California or Nevada).
Finally, it’s important to remember that, despite the significance of the Latino vote in each of these states, it still numbered far below its percentage of the populations in each state—Latinos voted at about 60% of their state numbers, while whites continued to vote above their numbers in each state. While Republicans and conservatives can and will do their best to oppose the legal right of American workers to organize unions, they can have little effect on the birth rates of Latinos already in this country: about 25% of one year old babies are Latino. And these are overwhelmingly from Mexico and Central America, and do not share the views, culture or lexicon of Cuban-Americans like the gifted Marco Rubio of Florida.
So Rubio will not be the deus ex machine who brings a significant number of Latino voters into the Republican fold. Republicans had a great day on Tuesday. But an incoherent, self-refuting political philosophy is only one of their problems going forward.