There is an art to political stagecraft, a sort of medium-is-the-message thing, which explains why President Obama will be in Las Vegas on Tuesday to begin his effort to overhaul the nation’s confounding immigration system.
For generations, the West was a Republican stronghold, the land of Goldwater and Reagan and sagebrush rebels. But a change began under President Clinton and was hastened under President Obama, who twice added Nevada and Colorado to the Democrats’ stable of support in the West.
The reason, in short, is Latino voters.
The rise of Latino power, which began in California as a backlash to the heated rhetoric surrounding Proposition 187, the 1994 anti-illegal-immigration initiative, has steadily spread eastward, giving once-red states a distinctly more blue tinge.
There may be no better illustration than California’s next-door neighbor.
Obama won Nevada in 2008 by a whopping 12 percentage points. By all rights, however, Republican Mitt Romney should have been strongly competitive there in 2012. He had an organizational base among the state’s large Mormon population, and Nevada has been an economic basket case for years, with jobless, foreclosure and bankruptcy rates that set a national standard for awfulness.
Obama carried the state, however, winning in November by more than 6 percentage points.
Strong Latino support is one reason. What happened in Nevada reflected the results nationwide: The percentage of Latino voters grew to 18% of the electorate, from 15% in 2008, and Obama won their support by a crushingly large margin.
Immigration has become the Democrats’ wedge issue, drawing small-business-owning and culturally conservative Latinos away from the GOP in the way Republicans long used abortion and other contentious social issues to pry working-class Democrats away from their party moorings.
As an added political benefit to Democrats, the issue of illegal immigration splits the GOP between enforcement-only hard-liners and advocates of a more balanced approach that would mix fortified borders with some path to citizenship for the millions of immigrants in the United States illegally. To hard-liners, that amounts to amnesty for lawbreakers and an unacceptable capitulation to Obama and his fellow Democrats.