Primary Elections 2014 Results: California and New Mexico Races Predict Greater Latino Influence in Midterms
Gubernatorial primary results in California and New Mexico on Tuesday night indicate both parties in those states could be scrambling for Latino votes come the November elections, despite typically low Hispanic turnout during midterm elections.
In New Mexico, Republican Governor Susana Martinez, the first Latina governor of a U.S. state, will face Attorney General Gary King later this year, after King's victory over four other Democrats vying for the chance to topple Martinez from her post. He faces a difficult battle, as Martinez's popularity has remained steady throughout her term, according to a Public Policy Polling survey earlier this year.
Martinez won the governorship in 2010 with diverse support, winning more than half of the independent vote and 24 percent of Democrats in a state that voted for President Obama in both of the last two elections. But she lost the Latino vote by 23 points, according to a report from America's Voice. King will try to capitalize on that this year, since Latinos comprise nearly 30 percent of New Mexico's registered voters.
Martinez 's support for immigration reform is tepid; she opposes a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country, as well as efforts to allow the undocumented access to driver's licenses in New Mexico. But she boasts strong Tea Party support, garnering a vital endorsement from Sarah Palin during her initial campaign.
Her coffers are also full, with $4 million in campaign cash, according to Fox News Latino, since she didn't need to weather a primary challenge from the right. Democrats, however, were careful not to attack each other, so King is relatively unscathed, for now.
But while most Latinos don't support Martinez, it's possible many of them won't actively oppose her, either. The election is likely to hinge on turnout, an uphill climb for Democrats in non-presidential election years.
In California, the situation is reversed. Democratic Governor Jerry Brown was hoping for a Tea Party opponent in November, but he will face mainstream Republican Neel Kashkari, who beat out Tim Donnelly for the GOP nomination. Donnelly is the co-founder of the California Minutemen, and lamented on his campaign website that "instead of punishing those who have entered our country illegally, our state's leaders have chosen to create greater incentives for this illegal behavior including free healthcare, free education, and now free college."
Donnelly's loss means Latino votes in California are up for grabs. Though a new study from the Pew Research Center shows immigration reform isn't the top issue for American Latinos, it is still an important one. As Martinez in New Mexico demonstrates, Latinos are still wary of an anti-immigration reform candidate, though they can be swayed.
For Latinos, "immigration is a unifying issue, but it's not the only issue," Javier Palomarez, President and CEO of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce told Latin Post. "Economic growth, unemployment, the cost of healthcare, the state of the economy, job creation, these are issues that rank even higher than immigration in the minds of Hispanics."
Kashkari, himself the son of immigrants from India, is decidedly middle of the road on many issues. He's pro-choice, supports same-sex marriage, and held a campaign event picking strawberries with migrant laborers — hardly representative of the GOP of late. But going into the November election, he's focusing on the economy and jobs, hearkening back to issues that worked for Ronald Reagan in his days as governor of California and as the last U.S. president to pass an immigration reform bill.
Aside from a potential loss by Senator Thad Cochran in Mississippi on Tuesday — for a seat that will stay red no matter who wins in the June 24 runoff — the GOP has been mostly successful in beating back primary challenges from the Tea Party in House and Senate races this year, paving the way for a crop of midterm candidates that will be more palatable to Latinos — and more interested in their votes.
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