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Politics

Rise in Hispanic Voters May Boost Obama

The GOP might counter with a Hispanic vice presidential candidate.

Some good news for President Obama is buried in new Census data.

Some of the key states he needs to win a second term in the White House, including Florida, Colorado, North Carolina and New Mexico, have large and expanding Hispanic populations.

Obama carried all four states in 2008. If he carries them again in 2012, whoever emerges from next year’s primaries and caucuses as the GOP nominee will probably find it hard to win the presidency.

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Pennsylvania and Virginia, which are also likely to be competitive in the presidential race, have smaller, but growing, Hispanic populations. Obama also carried those states in 2008.

Hispanics clearly lean Democratic, especially in recent presidential elections. In 2008, two-thirds of the Hispanic vote went to Obama, compared with 31% for Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the Republican nominee. McCain’s showing was about typical for a Republican in a presidential race. The GOP high-water mark in recent years was 40% by George W. Bush in 2004. Bush built close ties to Hispanics in both parties when he was governor of Texas. He also named Hispanics to prominent Cabinet positions, both in Austin and in Washington.

Hispanics accounted for 9% of the electorate nationally in the Obama-McCain race, but they represent a much bigger share in some states -- about 36% in California, which looks to be safely in Obama’s camp next year. Less certain for Obama are Florida and Colorado, where Hispanics represent 20% of the population. Cuban-Americans in Florida have typically leaned Republican for decades, although 57% backed Obama last time.

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So how can Republicans fight back?

For starters, don’t be surprised to hear increased talk about Republicans weighing the idea of a vice presidential candidate who is Hispanic. Such a move would strip some support away from Obama and force his campaign to spend more time and money in states where Hispanics matter most.

Among the Hispanic prospects: Freshman Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico and Gov. Brian Sandoval of Nevada. Another possibility is Carlos Gutierrez, who was commerce secretary for Bush and, before that, CEO of Kellogg Co.

Rubio would be especially attractive, especially if former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney wound up as the GOP’s presidential nominee. Rubio would give any GOP candidate an improved chance to carry Florida and grab its big cache of electoral votes. But his status as a Tea Party favorite may be especially helpful in allowing Romney or another moderate Republican to win the backing of wary conservatives.

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