Virginia Election Shows, Once Again, What Happens When Republicans Turn Their Backs on Latinos

When will Republicans get it?

Last year, after American voters handed Mitt Romney his hat and sent him packing, Republican leaders tried to figure out what had gone wrong. One of the things they landed on -- hardly a surprise to the rest of us -- was that Romney's hard-line anti-immigrant stance had badly hurt him among Latino voters.

Not only did Romney oppose fixing our immigration system, say he would veto the DREAM Act and dehumanize immigrant families by suggesting that the U.S. make their lives so miserable they "self-deport." There is a reason why "self-deportation" was a new term in political debate: Until Romney, no one with a national profile was clueless enough to even bring up this absurd concept. Latino voters responded by favoring President Obama by an astounding 44-point margin, playing a critical role in helping him hold on to the presidency.

Republicans read the numbers, but they did not get the message.

House Republicans have put up a roadblock to a bipartisan Senate immigration plan, refusing even to hold a vote on it, and even the plan's chief Republican sponsor, Sen. Marco Rubio, changed his mind after being hounded by the Tea Party.

Then, Republicans nominated Ken Cuccinelli to be governor of Virginia, a man whose anti-immigrant record was even worse than Romney's.

Cuccinelli not only opposes comprehensive immigration reform, he wanted to allow police to demand the papers of any person they suspected of being an undocumented immigrant and sponsored a law that would have allowed employers to fire people for speaking any language other than English at work...even during a break. And to top it all off, Cuccinelli had once joked with a radio host about how pest control policy is "worse than our immigration policy" because "you can't break up rat families."

On Election Day, Cuccinelli's anti-immigrant rhetoric backfired, as Latinos in Virginia voted overwhelmingly for his opponent Terry McAuliffe. It wasn't a coincidence. A Latino Decisions poll commissioned by People For the American Way and America's Voice found that 69 percent of Latino voters in Virginia said Republicans' refusal to move on immigration laws made them view the party less favorably. The poll also found Cuccinelli's "rats" statement and his anti-immigrant policy positions, circulated heavily in TV ads we sponsored, turned off Latino voters not only to Cuccinelli but to the Republican Party as a whole.

The result: McAuliffe earned 66 percent of the Latino vote in Virginia, making up a critical 5.5 percent of his vote total. This is particularly significant given that many of these voters do not consider themselves Democratic partisans: 58 percent of those surveyed reported that they had voted for a Republican candidate in the past.

Cuccinelli earned his defeat by amplifying his party's message of exclusion against women, people of color, and anyone who doesn't think exactly like them.

You don't need a Ph.D. in political science to know that in a state and a country where a shrinking portion of the electorate is made up of conservative straight white men, this may not be a wise strategy for Republicans.

The GOP is still set on appeasing its shrinking base by turning its back on the rest of us. That's not only an un-American strategy, it's a losing one too.