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Election Commentary: Missed Opportunities

A familiar sound echoed about low Latino participation rates, but Democrats can’t blame election losses on Latinos.
Image: Autumn leaves over the Capitol the morning after the elections in Washington
The dome of the U.S Capitol is seen behind autumn leaves in Washington November 5, 2014. Republicans rode a wave of voter discontent to seize control of the Senate, dealing a punishing blow to President Barack Obama that will limit his legislative agenda for his last two years in office. FREUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS ENVIRONMENT)KEVIN LAMARQUE / Reuters

FLAGSTAFF, AZ -- After last night’s deflating losses, Latinos are now faced with a familiar political calculus, support a Democratic Party that stood idly by while the Department of Homeland Security deported over 2 million Latino family members, or look towards a Republican Party who thought 2 million wasn’t nearly good enough. Latinos have been here before and discouragement, while understandable, is not an option.

Last night’s election may be particularly stinging for Latinos who had put their hopes in the Democratic Party for comprehensive immigration reform since 2008. With Republicans now elected to run Congress, many Latinos fear that any chance of immigration reform favorable to Latino families has been lost.

Democrats, such as Senator Kay Hagan in North Carolina took the conservative approach by voting against the Dream Act in 2010 for fear of angering conservatives. Her vote sealed the fate of the Dream Act, and with it, the support of hopeful Latinos. With her vote went the possibility of relief for hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants.

“She does not have my vote anymore,” said Ilana Dubester, an activist who was speaking to a local paper after Sen. Hagan’s vote. Senator Hagan lost by less than 49,000 votes in a state with almost 200,000 Latino voters.

A familiar sound echoed about low Latino participation rates, but researchers are saying you can’t blame this election on Latinos. Matt Barreto, co-Principle of Latino Decisions, said, “Democrats cannot blame Latinos for low midterm turnout, Democrats need to show Latinos that they actually do care about the Latino vote and the issues that matter. If Latinos don't believe candidates will stand up for the issues we care about - like Kay Hagan voting no on the Dream Act - then why do they expect Latinos to blindly vote for them? The strong connection from DACA in 2012 felt like 2 decades ago, not 2 years ago last night,” Barreto said.

Erika Andiola Arreola, a prominent Dream activist and co-Director of Dream Action Coalition, responded with a statement about last night’s losses, “Bad politics have consequences. Prioritizing senate seats over keeping families together was bad politics. Tonight, when the Democrats were hoping to keep the Senate despite the President’s delay on immigration, we saw Latino voters rebuke Democrats at the polls, either opting to stay home or voting for another party… No more broken promises.”

In Colorado, a stronger connection between Latinos and Democratic incumbent Senator Mark Udall could have been the difference between victory and his defeat to Republican Cory Gardner, which contributed to shifting the Senate to Republican hands. The Colorado Democrat who did win re-election - Governor John Hickenlooper - obtained 15 percent of votes from conservatives versus 8 percent for Udall, who lost his congressional seat.

Playing to their base, rather than hoping for smaller victories on the margins from conservatives seems like a stronger position to be in for Democrats. With Latinos maturing within the electoral system, perhaps that is a strategy worth considering into the future.

That is the message immigration advocates like Erika Andiola Arreola were offering. “If they had taken the courage to stop deporting our community and announced an expansion of DACA, we would be at a different place. It was never about supporting Republicans, but always about warning Dems against the discouragement from Latinos and immigrants for taking us from granted. I guess they didn't listen and lost those seats anyways," she said.

Moving forward will be tough, but 2016 looms on the horizon, and a Presidential Election favors Latinos considerably by diversifying the electorate. It was just two years ago that the Republican Party was dubiously declared dead by liberal pundits. Latinos disappointed by last night's results won't need to wait long to get a new chance at "change they can believe in."