It's unclear whether the results would change the party's opposition to legalizing the status of some illegal immigrants. In a conversation with the Des Moines Register last month, Obama predicted that GOP opposition could crumble after Hispanics delivered the White House to him. The conversation was initially off the record but later published with the president's consent.
"And since this is off the record, I will just be very blunt," Obama said. "Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community."
On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he would introduce immigration legislation next year and that Republicans would reject it "at their peril."
Opponents of an immigration deal warned that Republicans should not take the Democrats' bait. Steve Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies noted that Hispanics have reliably backed Democrats for decades, even after President Ronald Reagan signed an immigration amnesty law in 1986 that gave many of them legal status. Those new American citizens, Camarota said, turned into Democrats.
Camarota and other supporters of immigration restrictions contend that Hispanics lean Democratic because they favor government social programs and higher taxes on the wealthy. The GOP changed the national electorate through the 1986 law "and now they have to move with the electorate," he said. "For 30 years that we have data, Hispanics have been voting Democratic. There's no reason to think that's going to change unless the Republican Party moves away from its low-tax, low-regulation position."
NumbersUSA President Roy Beck, whose group advocates reductions in immigration levels, argues that Republicans like Romney need to explain to Hispanic voters why immigration restrictions are in their interest. "He should have talked about Hispanic unemployment and how much high immigration hurts Hispanic employment."
Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., an immigration hawk, agreed and said economic issues, not immigration, are key to winning Hispanics. "You should never sacrifice your core beliefs for political reasons," he said.
The debate is nothing new for the GOP.
Mario H. Lopez, president of the conservative Hispanic Leadership Fund, said he's heard arguments like that before — after every election in which Hispanics lean more Democratic and Republicans suffer. "The clock has been ticking," Lopez said. "Some of us have been talking about it for years. It's up to them if they want to listen or have more nights like Tuesday night."