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In the Future, a Southern Route to the White House

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
Texas delegate John W. Allen takes in the sights at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

"Everyone has an assumption that increased diversity in Texas means a better shot for Democrats," said Guy Harrison, the executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee and a seasoned Texas operative. "I would just say the Hispanic vote is a lot more up for grabs than the African-American vote. But how much you can get the Hispanic vote is a lot more dependent on candidate, atmosphere and a lot of other things."

Like Georgia and Texas, Democrats are not competitive in Arizona this cycle on the presidential level, despite Democratic talk that the state might find its way onto the final playing field this fall. That will likely change in the next decade. Again, the growing Hispanic population is slowly changing the state's politics.

But unlike another Southwestern state, Texas, Republicans have made fewer public overtures to woo Hispanic voters in Arizona. Recent state legislation aimed at illegal immigration, such as S.B. 1070, polls terribly among Arizona Hispanics.

"It might be closer to red than blue right now, but it's moving in a good direction for Democrats," said Rodd McLeod, a Democratic consultant in Arizona. "It's really difficult to succeed in a Republican primary these days unless you beat up on Latinos."

Experts expected to know the political results of the Hispanic voter boom much sooner. But the recession grounded a lot of population movement since 2008.

"Anybody looking at projecting forward, it's real iffy now," said Kimball Brace with Election Data Services, a Democratic redistricting firm. "The real question is not where they're moving, it's whether they're moving."

These demographic projections - and economic realities - played out here in Florida. Over the last decade, the Sunshine State picked up population at a steady clip. But the crashing housing market halted further growth at the end of the decade.

Nonetheless, the state's Hispanic communities continue to expand and diversify, and the state is on track to become more competitive in future cycles, if recent trends continue. Republican presidential candidates won the state for most of the past three decades with a couple of exceptions, such as 2008. But a rising Hispanic population has made the state more competitive recently.

Since 2006, the number of white registered voters increased 3 percent in Florida, according to data from the secretary of state and tabulated by Roll Call. During the same time, black registered voters increased 18 percent, and Hispanic registered voters grew 28 percent.

Traditionally, Florida has housed a strong contingent of conservative Hispanic voters, mostly of Cuban descent. But the state's Hispanic population has become more diverse. Over the past six years, the number of registered Democratic voters classified as Hispanic grew 38 percent. Republican voter registrations among Hispanics increased only 11 percent.

The trend sets even higher stakes for Republicans to win over or compete in the Hispanic community.

"This is probably the last time we can get away with a [presidential] win without making significant strides in the Hispanic vote - and that's thanks to a weak incumbent," said Al Cardenas, chairman of the American Conservative Union and a former Florida Republican Party chairman. "We need to wake up and we need to make a massive investment and effort."

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