In response to some new Spanish-language television ad from the McCain campaign, Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA) put out this statement (in English, as best I can tell) that the Obama campaign is sending around:
There’s one thing Latinos have learned all too well after eight years of George Bush: politicians can say one thing, but it’s what they actually do that counts. Senator John McCain’s newest attack ad uses ‘friends’ to say one thing, but the facts show otherwise. If Senator McCain wants what’s best for our families, he would not have voted against increased funds for our children’s healthcare. And he would not have flip-flopped on his own legislation to firmly and fairly reform our broken immigration system. But he did. Senator Barack Obama has stood firmly with our families on all of these crucial issues. He did not flip-flop like Senator McCain. Bottom line: what’s best for America and Latino families is a leader who won’t flip-flop when it counts most.
I think that there’s an important insight lurking amidst this campaign rhetoric, namely that I think the press and politicians often overstate the significance of the immigration issue to Hispanic politics. US politics mostly operates along a “culture war” dynamic with racial, ethnic, or religious blocs voting in highly divergent matters and this has long been the case. So as the Latino share of the vote increases, there’s a tendency to seek out the key hot button issue for Latino voters and the view is that it must be immigration. McCain has (before flip-flopping and saying he would vote against his own bill) been a leader on pro-immigration reforms, ergo McCain should be able to appeal to Hispanic voters by emphasizing that fact.
If you look at it in detail, though, the Hispanic electorate mostly seems to vote the way Thomas Frank suggests everyone should in What’s the Matter With Kansas — poorer Hispanics vote Democratic, richer ones vote Republican, and social and cultural issues just don’t seem to play very much. Because Hispanics are poorer-than-average this leads to a big pro-Democratic tilt. I think it’s clear that Republicans can hurt themselves with the immigration issue by acting like racist demagogues but the GOP’s primary problem with this voting group really is things like S-CHIP rather than a lack of sufficient immigration-related pandering.