A new report out from a pro-comprehensive immigration group predicts "Latino voters are poised to play a crucial role in key House and Senate races across the country" -- including in Florida, where it says that Barack Obama's "strong focus on courting the Latino vote in Florida helped him carry the state that supported George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004. The report notes there was nearly a 50 percent increase in Latino voter turnout between 2004 and 2008.
The report by America's Voice calls Gov. Charlie Crist's immigration record "mixed," noting that he supported former Sen. Mel Martinez’s efforts to enact comprehensive immigration reform in 2006, but has "taken a harder line on the issue."
And it notes his primary challenger, former House Speaker Marco Rubio, has taken a hard line, saying that "if you grant amnesty, the message that you’re sending is that if you come in this country and stay here long enough, we will let you stay. And no one will ever come through the legal process if you do that."
"While both Republican candidates are tacking right on immigration before the GOP primary, this stance could be harmful during the general election," the report states. "Congressman Meek, on the other hand, has consistently supported comprehensive immigration reform." Meek, the group notes, is an original cosponsor of an immigration reform bill authored by Rep. Luis Gutierrez, and says on his website that "we need comprehensive immigration reform so that America can meet the economic and security challenges of the 21st century."
Frank Sharry, the executive director of America's Voice, rejected in a conference call with reporters the suggestion that hardliners are more likely to win -- noting that many Republican candidates who took hard right stances on immigration in 2008 lost.
"The conventional wisdom that has driven the so-called smart political thinking in 2006 and 2008 has given way to a new reality that hasn't been absorbed by the chattering class," Sharry said, adding that the "very loud, but not very large" opposition, "doesn't really turn on elections, so much as fax machines..."
Still, Sharry and other immigration advocates, warned that Democrats shouldn't take Hispanic voters for granted and noted increasing frustration at President Obama and Congress's failure to pass immigration reform.
"The president did make a promise and it's not been forgotten," said Janet Murguia, the president and CEO, National Council of La Raza. "We're going to continue to hold him accountable and at the same time, we're looking to Congress and Democrats and Republicans. They can't just continue to say no either - that will be extremely evident to our community. Our community will hold all parties accountable."