Cover Story

Demographic hope

"Demographic hope" Continued...

Issue: "Divided we stand," Dec. 1, 2012

Pundits debated whether Romney didn’t articulate a counter-vision well enough, or whether voters simply didn’t embrace the principles he did offer. Whatever the case, Romney centered his campaign on the economic malaise.

For evangelicals, social issues also remained important, though Romney didn’t emphasize opposition to abortion or “gay marriage.” That didn’t deter evangelical support: Exit polls showed 78 percent of white evangelicals voted for Romney—two points higher than support for McCain in 2008, and nearly the same level as supported Bush in 2004.

For Hispanic evangelicals, the numbers dropped drastically: An October poll by the Pew Research Center found 50 percent of the group said they’d vote for Obama. Thirty-nine percent said they supported Romney.

Hispanic evangelical leaders like Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference say immigration is a leading reason Latino voters don’t support Republicans. While President George W. Bush attempted comprehensive immigration reform, the plan languished, partly because of conservative worries over amnesty.

By the GOP primaries this election season, some conservatives were still adamant. During a Republican primary debate last September, Texas Gov. Rick Perry spoke of allowing in-state tuition for the children of illegal aliens. The crowd booed.

In a January debate, when moderator Juan Williams mentioned Romney’s father was born in Mexico, a few audience members booed again. During the same debate, Romney said he favored “self-deportation” for illegal immigrants.

Rodriguez says the overall tone was damaging: “Romney may have self-deported himself from the White House by alienating the Latino electorate.”

The subject of immigration reform remains tense among many conservatives. But Rodriguez and his allies say they don’t support a no-strings-attached amnesty. Instead, they favor a plan that would allow illegal immigrants to apply for U.S. citizenship, pay fines, and meet requirements to learn English. (See "The Lamb's agenda".)

Richard Land of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention endorsed Romney, but says the GOP must improve on immigration: “How many times do you have to bang your head against the wall before you realize it hurts?”

Land says it’s possible to reconcile legitimate concerns for the rule of law with compassion for illegal immigrants. Al Mohler—president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary—agreed in a post-election column: “The party’s position on immigration is disastrous, and is at odds with the party’s own values.”

The immigration irony: Obama didn’t do much better. The president promised during his first campaign to push quickly for comprehensive immigration reform, but never acted. Still, Latinos hailed Obama’s executive order in September that halted deportations for some illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States before they were 16 years old. The eleventh hour order may have secured wavering Hispanic voters.

Meanwhile, a smaller group of Hispanics was waging an uphill battle: trying to convince Latinos to support conservative politicians. In October, Rodriguez joined a group of Latino clergy in Boca Raton, Fla., on the day of the last presidential debate. The group of evangelical and Catholic leaders denounced Obama’s support for abortion, “gay marriage,” and the federal mandate requiring religious organizations to cover contraceptives and abortifacients in their healthcare coverage.

Romney didn’t provide much backup: Despite the millions of dollars the campaign spent on a robust Hispanic outreach (mostly emphasizing economic issues), Rodriguez said he didn’t see or hear one advertisement that specifically engaged Hispanic voters on abortion, “gay marriage,” or the healthcare mandate.

That’s striking considering Obama’s relentless attacks on Romney for his opposition to federal funding for Planned Parenthood—the nation’s largest abortion provider. And though the president endorsed “gay marriage” in May—and pushed it heavily during the Democratic National Convention—the Romney campaign offered little public response.

Even the healthcare mandate that led some evangelical and Catholic institutions to sue the federal government got little play from a Romney campaign determined to focus on the economy. (Obama won the Catholic vote 50-48.)

That left conservatives like Alfonso Aguilar on their own. The executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles led a campaign in the swing state of Nevada to reach out to Hispanic evangelicals and Catholics on social issues.

The effort—called Nevada Hispanics—produced literature, conducted rallies, met with Hispanic church leaders, and produced a Spanish-language ad for television and radio to emphasize Obama’s position on abortion, “gay marriage,” and the healthcare mandate.

Aguilar—a Catholic—saw nothing like it from the Romney campaign in Nevada or elsewhere. But he said Obama volunteers were busy engaging the same groups “church-by-church, block-by-block. … We really couldn’t compete with them.”

Obama won Nevada 52-45 percent.

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