Political News

Dems see Latino-based future as union clout wanes

Posted September 4, 2012

— On a precarious political bridge, Democrats are desperately trying to reach a promising future before their old foundation crumbles behind them.

Union clout has eroded. But Hispanic strength is growing, raising long-term hopes. What about now?

The party survived the mass exodus of Southern conservatives, nearly all of whom are now Republicans. That left labor unions as a backbone of Democratic activism, providing crucial foot soldiers and volunteers in countless elections. But steady and long-running attrition among American unions is one big reason Democrats have few realistic hopes of regaining control of the U.S. House this fall and are battling to keep their grip on the White House and Senate.

The chief bright spot in the party's future may still be several years away. Minority populations, especially Hispanics, are growing at a much faster rate than whites, and they lean heavily toward Democrats, partly because of Republicans' stern approach to immigration.

President Barack Obama lavishes attention on his party's traditional base, including union households, as well as on the up-and-coming minority constituencies. But it's not clear whether the shift in influence from the old blood to the new is progressing fast enough to save the president from a bad economy and a well-financed Republican opponent, Mitt Romney.

The Democratic Party "is in a period of transition," said Simon Rosenberg, president of the New Democrat Network, a Washington think tank. It's shedding remnants of the New Deal coalition, which relied heavily on labor unions and city political machines, and adapting to a global economy, the rise of social media and "geopolitical challenges."

"The Democrats are still crossing that bridge," Rosenberg said.

John J. Pitney Jr., a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College, said the transition presents campaign challenges for Obama and other Democrats on the ballot this fall.

"With urban machines long gone and public employee unions in possible decline, who will run the phone banks and precinct walks?" Pitney said. "Ideological activists are one potential source."

Some polls, however, find considerably less enthusiasm this year among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents than among Republican voters.

More than a third of all U.S. workers were union members in 1954, but that figure now is below 12 percent. Federal, state and local government employees have much higher union membership rates than do private-sector workers. But the sagging economy has triggered heavy state-government layoffs in many places, weakening those unions.

As union membership falls, however, Hispanic communities are growing. The U.S. Hispanic population grew by 43 percent from 2000 to 2010, accounting for more than half of the entire nation's population increase in that decade. And for now, at least, Hispanic voters lean Democratic.

"As we look to the future, demographics play in our favor," said Tom Daschle, the former Senate Democratic leader. Hispanics are the main reason, he said, but "Asian Americans are increasingly in our camp" as well.

Nine of North Carolina's delegates to the Democratic National Convention are Latino, and the demographic is by far the fastest-growing in the state – more than doubling since 2008.

Gov. Beverly Perdue said the importance of the Latino vote isn't lost on Democrats at both the state and national levels.

"We are really targeting the Hispanic vote," Perdue said. "We want everyone to vote and take advantage of the ultimate privilege to vote, and we should do that every chance we get."

The Latino delegates said they were thrilled that convention organizers tapped San Antonio, Texas, Mayor Julian Castro to deliver the keynote address. He is the first Latino to get that prime speaking slot.

"As an American Latino, it's crucial. It's historic. It's important. It's motivational. It's inspirational for all of us," said Matty Lazo-Chadderton, who has been active in politics for years.

Lazo-Chadderton said, however, that Latinos aren't a monolithic voting bloc because they come from different backgrounds.

"We think differently. We have the same beliefs and same language but are different," she said. "So, you can see in North Carolina diversity within the Hispanic community."

The delegates cited health care reform, women's issues, jobs and immigration reform, including the so-called Dream Act to create a citizenship path for people brought to the U.S. illegally as children, as important issues for them.

"The Dream Act is not dead and never has been dead under the Obama administration," Omar Perez said. "We want to ensure the Latino community that we still are working on it and we're not giving up."

"The importance of our country is on the backs of our forefathers and foremothers who are immigrants of those born in this country," Nelda Leon said. "We're Americans. It's what's everybody wants."

When Democrats in Charlotte stop basking in their bright demographic future, they might question why they are struggling in many congressional races.

Americans tell pollsters they see Democrats as better able than Republicans to look out for the middle class and to handle health care, Social Security and issues "important to you and your family." Yet, Democrats fear that the Republican wave from 2010 that heralded a GOP-controlled House and gains in the Senate might not have crested.

Indeed, the clout that Democrats enjoyed in 2009 — when they held the White House, the House and, for a time, a filibuster-proof Senate majority — is in danger of being completely reversed on Nov. 6.

Republicans fully expect to maintain their House majority. And they have a shot at winning control of the Senate.

Republicans hold a 241-191 edge in the House, with three vacancies. Democrats and their independent allies hold 53 of the Senate's 100 seats.

The limping economy and high unemployment rate are the main reasons the president is struggling, and Republicans are tying Democratic lawmakers to him in some key states.

Some Democrats say the GOP, and its tea party wing in particular, are handing them opportunities on numerous fronts. But they wonder if their party is nimble enough to exploit them.

For example, polls show that most Americans support Obama's bid to end a decade-old income tax break for the richest households. Romney and congressional Republicans adamantly oppose it.

"They've got ideological blinders on," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.

But some Democrats say Republicans have done a better political job on the subject, successfully packaging their anti-tax, anti-Obama message for voters.

"The Democrats haven't been as adept at selling their strategy to the public," Rosenberg said.

The three-day Charlotte convention gives Obama and other Democrats a high-profile chance to do better in the campaign's last two months, even as they hope demographic trends will help them in future elections.

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  • Offshore Sep 5, 2012

    Crabbit: so what's Obama's plan, as far as I can tell our gov't in general has done more to allow than deter illegal immigration, just more freebies to the illegals to keep them here. Great plan.

  • xylem01 Sep 5, 2012

    YAY! There are more 20-30 year olds than any other age group according to the 2010 Census data. AND the white population rose by less than any other category!! YAY!!

  • Crabbit Cratur Sep 5, 2012

    'No wonder there is so much pandering to illegals."

    so what was the excuse for doing nothing when W was in?

    Romney/Ryan will do nothing effective against illegals as they provide cheap and exploitable labor and hold all our wage down.
    They will makes things a little tougher to make it easier to exploit them but they will do nothing effective enough to make them leave.

  • Crabbit Cratur Sep 5, 2012

    "As the Dem's reach to the bottom of the barrel we will all see what else they can come up with, it should just about be empty or by the time elections are here we will have several more million illgal Hispanics that have arrived."

    Is this plan B for when Romney loses in Nov? Blame it on illegal votes?

  • Crabbit Cratur Sep 5, 2012

    Is this article in here just so the loony right will stop moaning about WRAL being Biased?
    If anything the future is bright for the Dems....the religious nuts and the Tea party have to be dying faster than the educated young. The changes on SSN seem to point in that direction.

    GOP only chance in the future is moving back to the center-ground, fiscal responsibility will win them elections in the future not sad obsessions on social issues.

  • WooHoo2You Sep 5, 2012

    "You do realize Romney has Spanish language ads playing across the southern US??? But you are about to tell me how that is different."

    I'll do the honors. He's not offering them handouts and special favors. He's just trying to get them to hear what he is about for the country, not for them as a group. He addresses the country, not niche groups.

    I know, odd huh, a president for all?- Nancy

    Romney is offering plenty of handouts and special favors...just to the people who can afford to get him elected. Still pandering no matter how you attempt to spin it.

  • Nancy Sep 5, 2012

    "You do realize Romney has Spanish language ads playing across the southern US??? But you are about to tell me how that is different."

    I'll do the honors. He's not offering them handouts and special favors. He's just trying to get them to hear what he is about for the country, not for them as a group. He addresses the country, not niche groups.

    I know, odd huh, a president for all?

  • artist Sep 5, 2012

    Is it really this obvious?

    A political party with no goals or directions... and they just chase groups of people for votes?

    And then they will determine their direction after they know who is in their group?

  • WooHoo2You Sep 5, 2012

    As the Dem's reach to the bottom of the barrel we will all see what else they can come up with, it should just about be empty or by the time elections are here we will have several more million illgal Hispanics that have arrived.- muggs

    You do realize Romney has Spanish language ads playing across the southern US??? But you are about to tell me how that is different.

  • muggs Sep 5, 2012

    As the Dem's reach to the bottom of the barrel we will all see what else they can come up with, it should just about be empty or by the time elections are here we will have several more million illgal Hispanics that have arrived.

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