Following last night’s surprising election results in Florida, several Latino Republicans are arguing that gubernatorial candidate Bill McCollum (R-FL) lost his bid for governor largely as a result of his recent introduction of a tough, Arizona-style immigration bill. The Miami Herald reports:
GOP lobbyist and fundraiser Ana Navarro, who dropped her support for McCollum after he proposed a law “tougher” than the controversial immigration bill in Arizona, said McCollum’s stance lowered his margin of victory in Miami-Dade — and kept many Hispanic voters from going to the polls.
“I think he can blame [immigration],” Navarro said. “I think if you speak frankly with McCollum himself, he would admit it was a mistake.”
It was McCollum’s sudden support of an Arizona-style immigration bill — after originally distancing himself from that kind of legislation — that hurt him, said Carlos Curbelo, Republican in a runoff for a Miami-Dade School Board seat.
“That change took away much of McCollum’s credibility,” he said, while adding that Scott, who has attacked McCollum’s immigration proposal, faces a difficult task ahead in trying to woo Florida Hispanics.
It’s hard to say whether enough Republican Latinos stayed home yesterday to make up for the 40,000 votes that McCollum’s opponent, Rick Scott (R-FL) was able to capture over him. However, it is pretty clear his immigration bill didn’t help him nearly as much as he had hoped — if at all. A Mason-Dixon survey conducted on August 9th and 11th put McCollum at a slight 34 to 30 percent lead over Scott. On August 11th McCollum unveiled the “Florida Immigration Enforcement Act” and began campaigning on it. However, a couple weeks later, not much had changed in the polls. Quinnipiac University released a survey this Monday showing McCollum’s lead at 39 to 35 percent against Scott.
Perhaps more significantly, most Florida voters cite the economy as a top concern, not immigration enforcement. At the very least, McCollum’s bill was a distraction that cost him time, effort, and money that could’ve been directed towards convincing voters that he could address Florida’s economic woes. While 86 percent of Florida Republicans support bringing the Arizona law to their state, that doesn’t mean it’s the only thing on their mind when they enter the voting booth.
Finally, it is certainly possible that a drop in Latino Republican support may have contributed to his loss as some Latino Republicans are suggesting. A majority of the 1,600 Latino voters surveyed in four states, including Florida, said they would be likely to vote against a candidate if they disagreed with the candidate’s stance on immigration — and the majority of Latinos nationwide oppose Arizona’s approach to immigration. In Florida, 54 percent of Latino GOP voters support the Arizona law, but 36 percent oppose it — enough to make a difference in a tight race.
Ultimately, Latino sentiments will likely have a much bigger impact in Florida’s general election this fall. The same survey also found that a majority of Latinos in those states identify as Democrats, echoing reports over the past couple years that Florida’s Republican Latino electorate is shrinking. Meanwhile, Scott and McCollum shared pretty similar immigration platforms — something which will likely haunt Scott in November, but didn’t present angry Latino GOP voters with a chance yesterday to flex their political muscles (other than staying home). As far as the primary goes, as of August 14th, McCollum still had 57 percent support from Latino Republicans, compared with 21 percent for Scott. And while several notable Latino Republicans such as Reps. Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) sharply criticized McCollum’s move on immigration, other than Navarro, few went as far as to send a strong message to the Latino community by pulling their endorsement.