Ever since the Court handed President Obama's Justice Department a big victory by enjoining the enforcement of major provisions of the onerous Arizona "papers please" immigration law, there has been pundit commentary that the decision will be bad for swing Democrats.
Of course, that analysis ignores that the ruling came from a judge who - though appointed by President Clinton - was originally nominated by Arizona's Republican Senator Kyl who has praised her as a fair jurist. And the decision will also likely cause a number of moderate supporters of the bill around the country to rethink their positions.
But there are two major reasons why that that kind of knee-jerk response is just plain wrong:
Reason # 1: The polling on this issue is very clear. The position a candidate takes on the Arizona lawsuit appears to affect the voting decisions of only one group: Latino voters.
The passage of the Arizona "papers, please" anti-immigration law has forced Republican politicians around the country into a political box canyon that does not offer an easy escape. For fear of offending the emergent Tea Party - and other anti-immigrant zealots in their own base -- they are precipitating a massive realignment of Latino voters nationwide.
According to data released a month ago by Public Policy Polling (PPP), Texas Governor Rick Perry lost his early lead over Democratic challenger Bill White and the race is now tied. The movement from a previous PPP poll in February comes entirely from Hispanic voters. PPP reports that:
"With white voters Perry led 54-36 then and leads 55-35 now. With black voters White led 81-12 then and 70 -7 now. But with Hispanics Perry has gone from leading 53-41 to trailing 55-21….there is no doubt the (Arizona) immigration bill is popular nationally. But if it causes Hispanics to change their voting behavior without a parallel shift among whites then it's going to end up playing to Democratic advantage this fall."
The punditry sometimes forgets that in politics, intensity is often just as important as poll percentages. For many Hispanic voters, the Arizona immigration law is an insult. It is an attack on their very identity. And it is certainly a litmus test that tells a Hispanic voter whether or not a political candidate is on their side - the critical threshold test of voter decision-making.
The same is simply not true for non-Hispanic voters. As a result, by allowing the Party to be defined by the anti-immigrant zealots - and refusing to lift a finger to pass comprehensive immigration reform in Congress - the Republicans are playing with political fire.
Polling show similar dips in support among Latino voters for Republican candidates in California and Colorado - and a whopping drop in support for the Republican Senate candidate in Nevada.
Polls show that voter decisions among persuadable voters in swing districts without large Hispanic populations will be determined by questions about the qualities of individual candidates and whether or not voters can be convinced to hand the keys back to the gang who just two years ago wrecked the economy.
Remember all the Tea Party and anti-immigrant activists are not persuadable voters. Democrats were never going to get any of their support. For persuadable voters, immigration will not define candidate choices among voters who are not Hispanic.
Reason #2. Completely apart from the impact the Arizona law has on persuadable voters, it will have an energizing effect on mobilizable Hispanic voters - voters who would vote Democratic but are unlikely to vote unless they are mobilized.
Until the Arizona law came along, may Hispanic voters were demoralized by the difficulty of passing promised comprehensive immigration reform.
The passage of the Arizona law changed the equation. On a party line vote, Republicans did something in Arizona that was a fundamental assault on the Latino community. Republicans across America have endorsed it. But what is just as important, the Democratic President took up the battle to defend the community - and just won a major victory.
The Arizona law is far from dead. A full trial on the merits of the law remains. But in enjoining its application, the judge found the Obama Administration is likely to win on the merits with respect to the unconstitutionality of key sections.
The anger of the Latino community at Republicans, coupled with the sense of empowerment that they - and the President - could take on the law and win -- will certainly energize Hispanic voter turnout this fall.
But you say, this election is about swing districts and there aren't many Latino's in swing districts. Think again. An analysis of the major swing districts - known in Democratic Party parlance as Frontline Districts (with Democratic incumbents) and Red to Blue districts (with Republican incumbents) shows the following:
· There are an estimated 1,009,398 Democratic Mobilizable Hispanic Voters in the 57 Frontline and Red to Blue Districts. (Democratic Mobilizable Hispanic Voters are defined as voters who would likely vote Democratic but are unlikely to vote unless they are mobilized).
· Twenty six of the 57 Districts have more than 10,000 Democratic Mobilizable Hispanic Voters.
· In 17 of the 57 Districts, Democratic Mobilizable Hispanic Voters constitute 9% or more of the total expected turnout in the race.
· Overall Democratic Mobilizable Hispanic Voters constitute 8.03% of expected turnout in the 57 Districts combined. That means these voters constitute more than a sixth of the total vote a candidate needs to win.
· There are an estimated 5,603,697 mobilizable Democratic Mobilizable Hispanic Voters in the 19 swing Senate states.
· Twelve swing Senate states have over 50,000 Democratic Mobilizable Hispanic Voters each.
· In eight of the 19 Senate states, Democratic Mobilizable Hispanic Voters constitute 9% or more of the total expected turnout in the race.
· Overall Democratic Mobilizable Hispanic Voters constitute 11.61% of the expected turnout in the 19 states combined. In other words, in the average Senate state this vote constitutes more than one fifth of the number of votes a candidate needs to win.
The impact of the Hispanic vote will be particularly pronounced in swing Senate states such as Nevada, California, Illinois, Colorado and Florida. It will have an impact in Connecticut, Ohio and even Indiana and North Carolina.
Bottom line is clear. On balance, the Arizona law suit - and the Obama legal victory - is good news for Democrats.