Super Tuesday is do or die, with over a quarter of pledged delegates at stake for each party. Iowa and New Hampshire may be the electoral contests that produce viable candidates, but Super Tuesday is the kingmaker (or queenmaker this year). But beyond the electoral bulk of March 1st the primaries will give us important indicators about Latino political preferences.
Latinos in Texas are in the spotlight, but the growing role of Hispanics in other Super Tuesday states give us a sense of how the Latino voice is shaping up for the 2016 presidential election and beyond.
Texas - the 800 pound gorilla
Come November Texas (at least for now) is irrelevant because it is such a deep red state. But the Lone Star state makes up for that irrelevance in its giant footprint on Super Tuesday. Texas has the most delegates up for grabs and it is the state with the largest Latino electorate on Super Tuesday. Texas has the second largest Latino population and nearly 30 percent of the state's eligible voters are Hispanic.
Outside of Florida, Texas has the highest number of Latinos either identifying as Republicans or voting for GOP candidates. Senator Ted Cruz won in 2012 with one-third of the Latino vote while in 2014 Governor Greg Abbot won with 44 percent of the Latino vote.
Texas will be a crucial test for Donald Trump's claim that he has Hispanic support. Trump is facing the largest GOP Latino electorate to date and he is up against two Hispanic Republicans, one of which is Texas' own home state senator. A recent NBC News poll has Texas Sen. Cruz as the favored frontrunner. If we see Latino Republicans dump Trump in favor of Cruz or Rubio then this support will likely give them the delegate support to keep fighting on.
The stakes are different but no less important for the Democratic contenders. A Latino win in Texas for Hillary Clinton means that her historic Hispanic support remains solid. However, there are indications that Latinos, especially Latino millenials are warming up to "El Viejito" Bernie Sanders. In 2008 Hillary Clinton won 66 percent of the Latino vote in the Democratic primary. If Bernie Sanders beats her among Hispanics or comes very close then this is a bad omen for the rest other Latino heavy states to come.
Colorado and Virginia - The Swingers
Two states that are consistently in the electoral limelight are the swing states of Colorado and Virginia. They are similar in their swingy nature but there are important differences between them regarding Latino voters.
Latinos make up close to fifteen percent of the electorate in Colorado. And while the state is not solidly Republican or Democratic, its Latino population has a strong Democratic preference. In the 2012 election Mitt Romney won only 10 percent of the Latino vote.
Colorado is Latino Democratic country, in contrast to Texas. As such, it will prove another major battle for Clinton and Sanders. But another thing to keep an eye on in Colorado beyond the Democratic contest is what turnout looks like. A high turnout will bode well for Democrats come November while low turnout may put the state in the red state column.
Moving across the country to Virginia, the contenders in Super Tuesday will be hoping for as many Latino votes as possible, but ultimately they know that the state will really come into play once in the general election. The Latino electorate in Virginia at 4.6 percent is just one-third of Colorado's. But the razor thin electoral outcomes in the past several races mean that the small and growing Latino electorate has an outsized voice.
The other factor that makes Virginia interesting with regards to Latinos is that there is openness to both parties. In the 2012 election Romney received 31 percent of the Latino vote, two points more than in Texas. Moving into 2016 presidential election and beyond Virginia Latinos may be poised to make their mark by being swing voters within a swing state.
The South - New Latino Kids on the Block
Super Tuesday is anything if not a voice of the South. Over half of the contests on March 1 are in Southern states. However, with the exception of Texas it is recent that we have seen Latino populations in states like Arkansas, Georgia, or Tennessee. The Latino electorate in the South is relatively small, hovering around 2 percent though the growth potential is high.
The last two decades have seen a Latino population explosion in the New South. Part of that growth is from immigration, the other part from births. In other words, the Latino population in many of these Super Tuesday states is not eligible to vote, yet. Not long after population growth, electoral growth will follow. We won't see the Latino footprint on Tuesday or in the next electoral cycle but in the coming decades the South and Super Tuesday will be an important Latino stronghold.