A TPM reader from out West weighs in on one particular wrinkle to the Tancredo campaign: its potential indirect effects on Latinos:
I’m glad someone is analyzing the Tancredo campaign more deeply than just the superficial thought that Tancredo’s entry into the race is good for the Dems either because TT will split the Republican vote and/or his presence in the race will mobilize Hispanic voters. In a state with a Latino population of 20% or more (as you point out) the dynamics of a Tancredo bid are actually quite toxic for Latinos in particular.
When someone like Tancredo is campaigning, Colorado Democrats literally believe that they don’t need to do anything to court Hispanic voters other than to point to examples of the Crazy from Tancredo and his ilk. I have received e-mails from Dems that are nothing more than a forwarded crazy e-mail from some right winger, with a comment something like “I don’t normally just forward e-mails from Republicans, but this one speaks for itself.” When the race-baiting right is in full throat, Democrats feel free to move to the right on race issues involving Latinos, simply because they feel comfortable that the only argument they need to make to Latino voters is that the alternative is worse.
So, in 2006, you saw the Democratic-controlled state legislature (under pressure from a Republican governor to do something after the Colorado Supreme Court threw out an anti-immigrant ballot initiative being promoted by the Tancredo types) pass sweeping anti-immigration laws, including a law that requires everyone to prove lawful presence in the United States to access state services. It was touted at the time — by the Democrats who passed it — as the “toughest” state level anti-immigration law in the country. Although it is less draconian than Arizona’s SB 1070, the Colorado laws also promote selective enforcement based on race, and the media has picked up on the problems with the law mostly when white people are inconvenienced, as when a long-time British resident was unable to get a subsidy for a water-efficient toilet because she couldn’t produce her papers (yes, water is everything in Colorado) or when the daughter of one of the Republicans in the state legislature got held up applying for her driver’s license because she couldn’t produce her birth certificate. Less funny stories, as when an entire Latino family was thrown out of public housing in one of the mountain towns because one family member couldn’t produce papers, have attracted less attention.
The long-term political dynamic is that as the Democrats feel more and more free to move to the right on immigration to chase what they perceive as “centrist” voters, the growing Latino population feels more and more that neither party represents us. So, voter participation drops, and then the same lack of voter participation is cited by the Dems as a reason not to take a harder line against Latino race-baiting. Obama’s 2010 campaign created a big jump in Latino voter participation in Colorado – up to 13% from what had been single digits – so far with no perceptible change in the Colorado Dem calculation that Tancredo-style craziness from the right actually gives Democrats an opportunity to tack even further right on Latino-identified issues like immigration and bilingual ed while offering nothing to Latinos other than the forwarded message that the other side are even bigger haters. So you are right to say the Tancredo campaign is unhealthy for the long-term health of political discourse in Colorado, and I thank you for it.
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