During the 2014 election cycle Latino Decisions identified US House districts where Latino voters were positioned to be influential. Specifically, we considered districts where the 2010 Latino voting age population either exceeds or approaches the 2012 House margin of victory, as well as seats won by the opposition party’s presidential candidate.
Depending upon these factors, each district was placed into one of three tiers with the tiers capturing the potential electoral vulnerability of the incumbent and the degree to which the politics of immigration and by extension, the Latino electorate could be influential in 2014. We then monitored the competitiveness of the 24 Republican and 25 Democratic held tier one and tier two Latino Influence House districts.[i] In particular, our analysis focused on the ability of the challenging party to recruit and fund quality candidates capable of mounting strong campaigns that would engage and mobilize Latino voters. In what follows, I summarize what occurred in the Republican tier one and tier two districts. In a subsequent post, I will assess the Democratic held districts.
As I noted in a prior post, the inability of the Democratic Party to recruit and fund quality candidates in many Latino Influence districts decreased the number of contexts where Latinos and other pro-immigration reform voters were positioned to reward or punish Republicans for their handling of immigration. In two of these districts (CA-25 and NC-9) the Democrats failed to even field a general election candidate.
More generally, the Democrats’ decision-making and patterns of resource allocation in 2014 were consistent with how parties behave in an unfavorable electoral environment. Instead of trying to expand the number of districts in-play, emphasis is placed upon incumbent protection. For instance, in announcing the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s fall ad buy reservations (with an initial allocation of $43.5 million that was increased to $56 million) six open seats, 13 Democratic challenges, and 17 Democratic incumbents were included. However, in October, the DCCC adjusted its strategy and cut support to nine challengers (while adding support to two others and one candidate running in an open seat) and shifted resources away from two vulnerable incumbents to shore up support for incumbents running in MN-8 and NY-18.
The data presented in the table below are consistent with these expectations. Specifically, these tables summarize the 24 Republican held tier one and tier two Latino Influence districts’ demography (Latino VAP and Latino share of registered voters) and competitiveness (2012 House and presidential margin of victory); party differences in candidate fundraising and outside spending; and the 2014 margin of victory.[ii]
In all but five districts, Republican candidates out-raised their Democratic opponents, often by significant margins. Indeed, in the 22 contested districts, eight Democratic candidates raised less than $300,000. In the five districts where the Democrats had more resources, the Democrats were able to pick-up just two of these seats: an open seat in California (CA-31) and the closely contested second district in Florida. In the other three districts where the Democrats had the fundraising advantage, the party’s candidates lost badly. Most notably, in New York’s 19th district, Sean Eldridge lost by thirty points despite a fundraising advantage of over $3 million.
The lack of competition in many of these districts also meant that outside groups largely stayed out of these races. As a consequence, the total outside spending in the Republican held districts was $36.5 million (as compared to $98.3 million in the Democratic held tier one and tier two districts) and nearly half of this total was concentrated in CO-6 and FL-2.
According to recent reporting, DNC research concludes that Latino voter turnout was especially low in this past election cycle. What occurs on Election Day in November is largely determined by decisions about recruitment and challenger funding made earlier in the cycle. Or put differently, the parties’ perceptions about the macro political environment help to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. If donors and party leaders perceive it will be a down year, they devote fewer resources to challenging vulnerable incumbents of the opposition party and instead, seek to fortify their party’s incumbents.
This was clearly the case in the Republican held tier one and tier two Latino Influence districts. Despite the potential for Latino voters to be influential in these electoral contexts, much of this potential was unrealized largely because of the inability of strong Democratic challengers to emerge. As a consequence, Republicans who narrowly won in 2012 coasted to victory in 2014 by margins that in some instances were six times greater. Perhaps most tellingly, in five of the six seats carried by Obama in 2012 that were won by a Republican in 2014 (CA-31 being the exception), the average margin of victory increased by over 14 points!
In the final analysis, the number of seats that the Democrats were able to pick-up in 2014 among the tier one and tier two Republican held Latino Influence districts equaled the number of districts where the party failed to field a candidate: two. Thus, the calculation by House Republicans that inaction on immigration reform would not hurt their 2014 electoral prospects appears to have been validated in no small part by the manner in which the Democrats reacted to the macro political environment.
[i] Note that the analysis presented here excludes the tier three Democratic and Republican held districts since few if any of these districts were seriously contested in 2014. For an overview of all Latino Influence districts see, “How Latino Voters May Decide Control of the U.S. House of Representatives.”
[ii] Data for the “Rep – Dem Fundraising” and the “Rep – Dem Outside Spending” columns of are from OpenSecrets.org. The “Latino VAP” column uses 2010 U.S. Census data summarizing the Latino share of the voting age population in each House district, while the “Latino Registration Share” column uses data from L2 Votermapping capturing the Latino share of registered voters in each district. Data for the “2012 margin” and “2014 Margin” columns are from the Associated Press and data for the “Obama – Romney” column are from Daily Kos.
David Damore is a Senior Analyst at Latino Decisions. He is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and a Senior Nonresident Fellow in the Brookings Institution’s Governance Studies Program.