Hispanic leaders are vowing to use the growing power of the Latino vote to topple anti-immigrant politicians across America in next year’s elections, emboldened by the shock unseating of a hardline Republican in an historic recall vote in Arizona.
Russell Pearce, the architect of Arizona’s controversial immigration law that has become the template for crackdowns against undocumented Latinos throughout the US, was forced out of office on Tuesday in an election that was hailed by the victors as a vote for moderation against extremism. Since spearheading the new law, SB 1070, in 2010, Pearce had risen to become arguably the most powerful politician in Arizona, as leader of the state senate.
But his radical right-wing policies were challenged by a petition organised by a coalition of Latino and labour groups that obliged him to face the electorate again in a recall ballot. Despite commanding three times as much campaign money as his rival, Pearce polled only 45% of the vote in the district of Mesa, a suburb of Phoenix. His opponent, a moderate Republican called Jerry Lewis, gained 53%, with about 1,700 votes between them.
Pearce’s opponents claim that the Hispanic vote was decisive, and are now focusing their attentions on replicating the stunning result in districts and senate seats across the US. Frank Sharry of the immigration reform campaign, America’s Voice, said that the Mesa result as a sign of what could be done when Latino voters were mobilised.
“We see what happened to Russell Pearce as a cautionary tale for right-wing extremists, and we want to remind Democrats that immigration is a mobilising issue for Latino voters and that instead of running away from it they should lead with it,” Sharry said.
Looking ahead to the 2012 presidential and congressional elections, the coalition that came together in Arizona is hoping to repeat the success across the country. A summit has been called for next month at which Hispanic and labour leaders will begin to identify the key congressional districts that they will target.
Several of the battleground states upon which the presidential race is likely to be decided have sizeable Hispanic populations, including Arizona itself as well as Colorado, New Mexico and Florida. “In those states the Latino vote could be hugely important in deciding the outcome,” Sharry said.