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Red to blue: Sooner rather than later?

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History was made last August when San Antonio’s Democratic mayor, Julian Castro, became the first Latino to give a keynote address at a national party convention. But it was Castro’s message rather than his history-making presence at the podium that convention attendees will likely recall (and which will almost certainly trouble the Future Majority Project). Castro pledged that the growth of the Hispanic population in the U.S., along with increased electoral participation by Latinos, will unbalance Republican control in Arizona, now “ground zero” for anti-immigration backlash. 

Castro stopped short of claiming that an increase in Latino voters would be enough for President Obama to carry Arizona in November, but explained that there are efforts afoot that will make Hispanics a more powerful force in both Arizona and Texas in coming years.

It’s a daring promise. In the two years since Arizona passed its notorious Senate Bill 1070, Republican Governor Jan Brewer has made a name for herself as an Obama basher, and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has been slapped with a federal civil rights lawsuit over his treatment of Latinos; both continue to prevail, thanks to anti-immigration allies and conservative voters.

According to a new report, this era will pass more quickly than Democrats had dare hope. Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute Latino Public Policy Center issued a late-summer report predicting that the state will go from red to blue in a little more than a decade. The projections point to a very high proportion of young Latino citizens who will come of age between now and 2025. By that time, the report surmises, Arizona will have gone Democrat on the basis of demographics alone, because the number of voting-age Hispanics (who tend to vote Democratic) will rise from 25 percent to 35 percent.

Castro made references to both Arpaio’s and Brewer’s backing of anti-immigration policies, saying, “I do think that, because of those policies, [the election] moves closer to being winnable by a Democrat. You have seen some backlash, and once these younger Latino folks start voting, I think that they’re going to keep up a habit of voting.”

It’s a hope that Democrats have harbored for years – that Arizona’s growing Latino population will be motivated by anti-immigration policies to head for the polls. But detractors are quick to point out that Hispanic voter turnout is historically lower than that of  other groups. Of those eligible to vote in 2008, only about half turned up to vote, compared to 65 percent of blacks and 66 percent of whites, according to numbers from the Brookings Institute.

In his speech, Castro expressed the hope that the backlash against Arizona, Arpaio and Brewer (who recently backed a ban on ethnic studies at local universities and issued an executive order denying driver’s licenses to young immigrants) will be enough to bring Latino voters to the polls, and to make prognostications about a Democratic Arizona a reality. 

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