The Democratic senators’ pioneering efforts in reaching out to Latino voters in their 2010 re-election races in Nevada and Colorado, respectively, provided a template that Obama for America developed into a national juggernaut.
But the outreach alone likely wouldn’t have been enough for either member if they hadn’t also been among the first to win on a platform of high-profile support for policies important to Latinos.
It’s a blueprint Obama largely followed in 2012, by building a voter outreach initiative that aggressively targeted Hispanics and simultaneously taking executive actions to ensure that children of illegal immigrants were not deported.
“I know that [Obama for America leaders] saw the Reid and the Bennet races as races where Latinos made a big difference and [they] thought, ‘OK, Latinos can make a difference here,’” said Gabriela Domenzain, who served as the campaign’s director of Hispanic press.
Analysis showed that Reid’s re-election was where Latinos made a difference in keeping the Senate Democratic majority, Domenzain said. “The Bennet race was also really important. And they were the first two races where — in Spanish and in English — the candidates leaned into issues of specific importance to Latino community, including immigration and the Dream Act.”
Obama campaign manager Jim Messina agreed, saying in a statement provided by Domenzain, “We knew that Latinos were key to this election and would be disproportionately impacted by the Romney agenda, so we set out to engage and inform them about the choice in this election earlier than ever before.”
Both Reid and Bennet were early backers of comprehensive immigration reform and the Dream Act, a bill that would provide a path to citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants. Reid’s support stretches back to at least 2007 after an effort to pass bipartisan immigration reform failed.
Craig Hughes, who was Bennet’s 2010 campaign manager and senior adviser for Obama’s Colorado 2012 campaign, said Bennet committed to the policies soon after being appointed to take over for Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo. Bennet previously served as superintendent of Denver Public Schools.
“Right after he was appointed he met with Latino activists,” Hughes said. “As superintendent, [Bennet] saw the impact of immigration and the lack of a policy every day, and [he] committed to immigration reform and the Dream Act, which are moral issues for him, and never wavered from it. That kind of commitment pays off.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.