Is Herman Cain helping the GOP win the Hispanic vote?

Herman Cain has 'joked'" about erecting an “electrified barbed wire” on the US-Mexico border. DCDecoder asks how is that playing with Hispanics?

AP Photo/Paul Connors
Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain at a news conference with Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Phoenix.

Whether or not Herman Cain becomes the Republican Party nominee, he may already be undercutting his party’s chances in the general election when it comes to winning over one key voting bloc: Hispanics.

Cain’s controversial comments about building a fence along the Mexican border with “electrified barbed wire” along the top may reinforce an image of the GOP as callous and anti-immigrant - just when the party was hoping to make real inroads among Hispanic voters.

The unemployment rate among Hispanics nationwide is currently at 11.3 percent, more than two points higher than the national average. Those numbers are even worse in key swing states like Florida, New Mexico, and Nevada - where the Hispanic population has surged. Polls show that President Obama’s approval rating among Hispanics, which hit a high of 82 percent in early 2009, is now at just 49 percent.

But any hopes Republicans had of capitalizing on all this may be quickly evaporating as the spotlight continues to shine on Cain. At an event in Arizona yesterday with Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio - who has become the face of that state’s controversial immigration-enforcement law - Cain both apologized for and then seemed to double down on his “electric fence” idea.

“It was a joke!” Cain told reporters, adding:

“It’s probably not a joke that you’re supposed to make if you’re a presidential candidate. I apologize if it offended anyone. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa!” But Cain then went on to say: “I don’t apologize for using a combination of a fence and it might be electrified. I’m not walking away from that.”

Think all this will come up at tonight’s CNN debate, which is held in Nevada - a critical swing state that is 26 percent Hispanic?

Significantly, none of Cain’s opponents have condemned his remarks. Michele Bachmann did attack Cain yesterday - not for advocating an electrified fence, but for joking about the issue.

“This is no laughing matter, the border fence,” Bachmann said. “We’ve seen jokes made by presidential candidates about the fence. It is not a joke. This is a real issue, and this is a serious issue.”

So the message to Latino/a voters is: next time you talk about an electric border fence that could kill people trying to enter this country illegally, you’d better be serious?

This all comes, of course, after last month’s back-and-forth over Rick Perry’s stance on immigration. The Texas governor was attacked by his opponents for having signed a bill allowing children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state college tuition. In a debate, Perry argued that his critics had no “heart” - a comment he quickly came to regret, as he later found himself heckled by anti-illegal-immigration protesters at campaign events. (Perry eventually apologized.)

The bottom line: If there was any question about whether the GOP primary electorate had softened its stance on illegal immigration, this campaign is quickly clearing that up. That sound you hear is Karl Rove (and other Republican strategists with their eyes on the party’s long-term demographics) banging their heads as they watch the GOP’s chances of winning the Hispanic vote circling the drain…

Watch the top Republican candidates face off in the CNN Western Republican Presidential debate LIVE from Vegas! Tuesday night at 8ET on CNN. (Sponsored message.)

Want more?

  • Check out the GOP’s formal Hispanic outreach outfit here.
  • Read this column by former GOP presidential candidate Pat Buchanan about “the end of white America” - and how projections that whites will become a minority by 2041 will mean “the end of a national Republican Party that routinely gets 90 percent of its presidential votes from white America” (Buchanan doesn’t see this as a good thing).
  • Watch Republican Super PAC (and Karl Rove creation) American Crossroads’ Spanish-language advertisement “Despertarse,” or “Wake Up,” below.
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