Tomorrow, 437 delegates will be awarded in the GOP presidential race; a total of 1,144 are needed to win the GOP presidential nomination. But as the GOP race moves along, women voters -- and within that subset, Latina voters -- wonder if issues such as access to contraception will trump the big economic issues.
In recent days, women have been reminded by Rush Limbaugh, who isn't even a candidate, what might be in store if someone like Rick Santorum makes more gains in the delegate count in the GOP race. Last week, Limbaugh created waves by calling Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown University law student who advocated before Congress for contraceptive coverage, a "slut." This stunt came just a few weeks after the House Oversight and Government Reform hearing did not include any women testifying about the administration's contraceptive rule. And just days ago on a Cincinnati radio program (Ohio is a Super Tuesday state), GOP Presidential Candidate Rick Santorum hung up on a radio host after being questioned about his views on birth control. For the record, Santorum opposes birth control coverage by insurance companies and has said that he and his wife don't use "artificial contraception."
And while this is going on, Mitt Romney can't get his talking points straight on whether he opposed or supported the Blunt Amendment, the Senate GOP's bill to limit insurance coverage of birth control. The Blunt Amendment was ultimately tabled, but this illustrates one of the main problems for Romney in this race –- he still sounds like a flip-flopper. And hanging in the race, but maybe not for long, there's Newt Gingrich, who is having a problem connecting with women voters. Gingrich has stayed above the fray in the recent birth control debates.
Why all the focus on birth control? Well, it comes down to the timing of the rule in the administration-backed Affordable Care Act, which was amended to have health insurers that provide policies used by nonprofit religions affiliates to offer separate insurance policy riders to cover contraceptive care. Contraception is something that nearly all American women have used in their lifetimes, but this kind of social issue debate also stirs up the religious voters with in the GOP base. And primaries are all about appealing to the base.
But when it comes to Latina voters, there is the reasoning that they are more socially conservative about issues like contraceptives and abortion and may therefore be more receptive to GOP messaging. But recent studies dispute this notion. Latinas for the most part, even including Catholic Latinas, have used birth control. And 89% of Latina voters aged 18-34 are in favor of birth control coverage without copayment for all females.
New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, whose name has come up as a potential vice presidential candidate, on March 5, 2012. (Image: © Albuquerque Journal/ZUMAPRESS.com)
Coming from communities that were hit hard by the recession, the ability plan and space out children is important to Latinas. So in many ways, the birth control issue is very much a "Latina issue."
Latinas and Latinos still favor President Obama, even though there is some evidence to suggest that they aren't as enthused about his candidacy as they were in 2008. The enthusiasm issue stems from the record-breaking deportations that the Obama Administration has undertaken while not making good on the promise for immigration reform in his first term.
On the other hand, many Latina voters feel turned off by the rhetoric of the GOP presidential candidates on the immigration issue, which has largely become a litmus test for respect of the Hispanic community.
With Mitt Romney recently calling Arizona "a model" for immigration policy and then attacking Rick Santorum for having voted to confirm Sonia Sotomayor, who now sits on the Supreme Court, warm fuzzy feelings aren't likely to develop for the GOP frontrunner in the Latina community. Rick Santorum also takes a more hardline position on immigration, while Newt Gingrich has called Romney’s ideas on immigration "inhumane." If Gingrich ends up leaving the race for the GOP nomination after Super Tuesday, there won't be any nuanced views on the issue with Romney and Santorum forging ahead (longshot candidate Ron Paul has even admitted that his chances of winning are slim).
Super Tuesday isn't the biggest primary day for Latina voters; in each of the states that are voting tomorrow, Latinos make up 6% or less of all eligible voters in those states. But Latinas will continue to follow the rhetoric and actions of the GOP candidates and President Obama as the election season progresses. Right now, Latinos are looking away from the GOP, but that could change if a Latino is placed on the ticket for the vice presidential slot. Rumors continue to swirl about Florida Governor Marco Rubio and New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, who both take hardline positions on immigration, which is the key issue where nuance seems to matter.
Looking forward to upcoming races, here are the ones I'm watching -- not only the presidential politics, but also the congressional races and lower level races:
- March 13 -- Alabama & Mississippi: Both have smaller Latino populations but harsh immigration laws. It will be interesting to see if the Latino voters flex what little muscle they have.
- March 18 -- Puerto Rico
- March 20 -- Illinois (big Latino population in this state)
- April 24 -- multiple primaries; New York is the one to watch
- May 20 -- Texas
- June 5 -- California, New Mexico, New Jersey (all have substantial Latino populations)
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