The only thing about the Obama White House’s weekend decision to delay any action on immigration that surprised me was why the president had earlier promised to act before the election in the first place. He made the vow on June 30, and I remember thinking at the time how strange it seemed.
Why? Simple electoral politics. You need to spend literally no more than 40 seconds looking at a map of the pivotal Senate races to see that, to be perfectly blunt about it, the Latino vote just isn’t a factor. Democrats are defending seats in the following states: North Carolina, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Alaska on the first tier; Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan, and Colorado on the second. Only in Colorado is the Latino vote sizeable. In the other seven states, especially the first four, Democrats are running in red states where they need to win a lot more white votes than Democrats usually do these days. And the same is true in the states where Democrats hope they might steal a Republican Senate seat—Georgia, Kentucky, and I suppose now we at least theoretically add Kansas (technically it’s an independent, not a Democrat, who stands a chance of unseating the GOP incumbent). These jurisdictions are not the Bronx, to put it mildly.
There are a few House districts where it might matter. Read this very interesting blog post from David Damore at Latino Decisions about how the Latino vote will figure into some House races, for example in the first and second districts of Arizona, where pro-immigration Democrats are defending their seats against well-financed, anti-immigration Republicans. But overall, Damore argues that Democrats’ poor candidate-recruitment efforts in GOP-held House districts with reasonably large Latino populations mean that a number of Republicans who could have faced decent challenges are getting a pass.
So if it’s just not a year when the Latino vote is going to be pivotal, why did Obama say what he said in June? It seemed and seems like an unforced error to me, like not anticipating that Bowe Bergdahl and his father were going to pop the Breitbart meter. Sometimes the political people at the White House just appear to be asleep. I suppose we have to allow for the possibility that he wanted to do the right thing. But to get the right thing done in politics, you have to do it at the right time. I kind of hate this category of overworked Obama-LBJ comparisons, but when Johnson became president, he didn’t charge right into civil rights. The first big bill he passed? A tax cut. Loosen ’em up, give ’em an easy vote, throw a little bouquet to the right, then go in for the liberal kill.
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