With South Carolinians heading to the polls Saturday night to vote in the hotly contested Republican primary, many Latino voters in the state are wondering what candidate –if any- has their interests in mind.
After Texas Gov. Rick Perry dropped out of the race earlier this week to throw his support behind Newt Gingrich, the GOP race has narrowed to four with frontrunner Mitt Romney taking most of the heat in this week’s two debates. Adding to this, the Gingrich campaign placed an advertisement on the radio, attacking Romney for using a slogan by Fidel Castro and alleging that he is the most anti-immigrant candidate.
Romney fired back calling the accusations “false” and “ridiculous,” while his campaign announced today that it hired one of Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s former top advisors, Alberto Martínez, in an effort to gain some traction with Hispanic voters. All of this comes in the wake of the confrontation Romney had recently in New York City with a Peruvian immigrant named Lucy Allain, who now has a 4.0 GPA at college, but no path to citizenship here.
Despite the politicians jawing back-and-forth in the lead-up to Saturday night’s primary, Latinos in South Carolina are feeling a little looked over by the Republican candidates. South Carolina is one of the states showing 10-year triple digit population growth for Hispanics at a rate of 147.9 percent, versus the national rate of 43 percent.
“I don’t think the politicians – and in particular the Republicans – are doing anything to win the vote of the Latino population,” Myriam Torres, a professor at the University of South Carolina, said in an interview with ABC News earlier this week. “They have this idea or this prejudice – I don’t know which – that the Latino population in South Carolina is a group that doesn’t vote and that is wrong.”
One issue on the minds of Latino voters in South Carolina is immigration. The fast-growing Hispanic population was threatened earlier this year by a strict immigration bill similar to those in Alabama and Georgia that was supported by Republican Gov. Nikki Haley --the daughter of immigrants.
A federal judge in December blocked certain provisions of the South Carolina law, including the language that requires law officers to check the status of anyone they stop for something else and suspect is in the country illegally. The judge also halted the implementation of sections pertaining to the transportation of undocumented immigrants and immigrant registration cards.
Even with waning frustration among Latinos for the Obama administration’s inaction to pass any comprehensive immigration reform in his term, the Republican candidates’ ardent stance against undocumented immigrants, their support of the border fence and their hesitancy to go after the Hispanic vote have hindered their chances in November’s general election.
When the polls close in the Palmetto state on Saturday, how many Latinos vote and who they vote for could make the difference in who is nominated as the GOP candidate.