by Jim Nintzel
TNR's Jonathan Chait looks at the strategy behind Obama's immigration push this week:
In the narrow analysis, Texas is a deeply Republican state. Obama lost it by a dozen points in 2008. It can't possibly help him win in 2012. If he does win the state, which could conceivably happen only in some kind of blowout scenario, he'd easily have enough electoral votes elsewhere to win.
However, there is long-term potential in Texas. The Latino population there is as large a proportion as in California, but it's heavily demobilized. A concerted campaign to register Latino voters could eventually change the dynamic. The catch is that you have to be willing to spend $20 million or so in order to register them — a huge investment that is hard to justify short term. But Obama might have enough money in 2012 to spare for a long-term investment. And a high-profile Latino Senate candidate like Sanchez could lure a lot of previously unregistered Latinos. The only way to make this work is to create an energizing atmosphere for Latinos.
What's more, Obama does need to mobilize the Latino vote in general, especially in states like Colorado, New Mexico, and Florida. That's where the immigration push comes in. Obama failed to pass immigration legislation because a coalition of Republicans and red state Democrats killed it. Because the bills never had a high profile vote, though, it looked a lot like Obama simply didn't care. That's why Democrats are making a high profile push now. Obviously, passing something is the best case scenario. But if Republicans want to kill comprehensive reform or even the very modest DREAM Act, the point is to make them do it in a high profile setting that clarifies just who killed it. That kind of clarification is necessary to make the mass mobilization they're planning in Texas effective. You can't carry out a mass registration campaign in an atmosphere where the stakes are perceived to be low.
And since Texas is such a vital center of the Latino community, a large scale effort to register Latinos, plus the Sanchez candidacy, would reverberate nationwide...
So the plan is to make the long-term investment in registering Hispanics in Texas, hastening the state's eventual turn to purple, while maaaybe getting a competitive Senate race (Sanchez is a general running on a centrist message) and helping mobilize Latino voters in true swing states. Add it all together, and three decisions that make little or no sense on their own suddenly make a great deal of sense.