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Herman Cain's 'Electric Fence' Comment No Joke to Latino Voters

New America Media | 10/24/2011, 1:30 p.m.
A new poll shows that Latino voters don't know who the Republican 2012 presidential candidates...

A new poll shows that Latino voters don't know who the Republican 2012 presidential candidates are, but they don't like what they're hearing.

This weekend, former Godfather Pizza CEO and newest GOP "front-runner" Herman Cain called for an electrified border fence capable of killing people, coupled with "real guns and real bullets" to deter border-crossers.

As Brent A. Wilkes, vice chairman of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, said to the New York Times:

These folks who come across the border are at most committing a misdemeanor. To suggest that they would be electrocuted or shot would be to treat them harsher than we treat murderers or rapists.

Cain later tried to walk back his comment--no surprise, considering that even the extremist Center for Immigration Studies thinks electrocuting border immigrants is a bad idea. You can be sure that Latinos won't be quick to forget his comment, however, which means continued tensions between this fast-growing demographic and an intolerant GOP.

Cain wasn't even the only GOP candidate making incendiary comments about immigration this weekend. Michele Bachmann went to the town of Perry, Iowa, where 33 percent of the population is Hispanic, to deliver a screed about the costs of illegal immigration (bolstered by wildly exaggerated cost estimates) and signed a border security pledge from the fringe group "Americans for Securing Our Border."

Meanwhile, the Hispanic Leadership Network, a Republican-affiliated effort to improve Party competitiveness with Latino voters, can't even muster up a pro-immigration policy for its website, relying on hackneyed platitudes like, "Now more than ever we need to bring our country together and find common sense solutions to address our broken immigration system." Another cop-out placeholder on the site: "Look for our policy position in the next few weeks."

It's no surprise that a new poll released today by Latino Decisions / impreMedia finds the Republican field facing both low name recognition and low Party approval numbers among Latino voters. The polling found that 40 percent of Latino respondents had no opinion or were not familiar with Rick Perry, a figure that rose to 46 percent for Mitt Romney, 58 percent for Michele Bachmann, 73 percent for Herman Cain, and 75 percent for John Hunstman.

As a whole, the Republican Party also faces low approval numbers among Latino voters, as only 22 percent of the demographic said they were likely to support the Republican presidential nominee. That's a long way from the 40 percent minimum needed for the GOP candidate to re-take the White House.

The new polling also shows that Latino voters continue to be motivated by the immigration issue, ranking it as the top issue (alongside the economy/jobs) for Washington to address. Instead of viewing this problem of low name recognition and poor brand image as an opportunity for Republicans to reshape Latino voter sentiment, the GOP presidential field has tacked hard right and seems to be doing everything it can to make the Party's relationship with Latino voters worse.

As Frank Sharry, executive director here at America's Voice, summarized:

Republicans seem intent to double down on their existing image among Latino voters as insensitive, anti-Latino, and anti-immigrant. It's the height of short-sighted politics for the GOP field to continue to find new ways to tell Latino voters, many of whom live in mixed legal status families, that they are essentially not welcome in the Republicans' vision of America. It's also a missed opportunity to view the field's low level of name recognition among Latinos as a chance to redefine the Party as more welcoming to new immigrants and Latinos.