Hispanics put McCain over the top

It's been conventional wisdom that John McCain's support for immigrants could cost him the Republican presidential nomination, because it put him on the "wrong side" of the party's base. Now comes the surprising news from Simon Rosenberg that it might in fact do the opposite:

According to the exit polls Mitt Romney and John McCain tied 33% to 33% among the 89% of the Florida Republicans who voted last night who were not Hispanic. Among Hispanics, who where 11% of the Florida GOP electorate last night, the vote was 54% McCain, 24% Rudy and 14% Romney. So it was the vote of Hispanic voters who put John McCain over the top in Florida, and gave him the most important win of his fight for the GOP nomination.

Thus, John McCain, the candidate who championed immigration reform, may have had the nomination delivered to him by those Hispanic voters he has been fighting for. And Romney, who has led the anti-immigrant crusade in the GOP field this year, saw this strategy explode on him - as it has virtually every other Republican who has invested in it - last night.

Meanwhile, Rolling Stone has an article reporting that top Republican strategists are terrified that the xenophobia gripping the party could backfire in a major way:

Exploiting the spasm of xenophobia that has taken hold of the GOP base helped Huckabee win Iowa — where entrance polls found illegal immigration the primary issue among the party's voters. But top Republican strategists are petrified that pandering to a narrow band of nativists will ruin the GOP's future with the nation's fastest-growing bloc of voters. This November, Hispanic turnout is expected to jump by fifty percent over 2000, with more than 9 million Latinos predicted to cast ballots. "I have never seen an issue where the short-term interests of Republican presidential candidates in the primaries were more starkly at odds with the long-term interests of the party itself," Michael Gerson, former White House senior policy adviser, wrote recently.

Grover Norquist, a top ally of Karl Rove, believes that the "vicious" rhetoric by GOP candidates could prompt Hispanics to flee "in droves" to the Democrats. "Talking about a strong border is one thing," Norquist says. "It's when you get into enforcing the law — which means deport — that you lose people's votes. Oddly enough, people resent the idea that you might throw their mother out of the country."

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