Voters in a polling place in East Los Angeles on Tuesday (David McNew/Getty Images)
In initially off-the-record comments to the Des Moines Register's editors in October, President Barack Obama said that if he won re-election, he would owe it to Latinos.
"Should I win a second term," Obama said, "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."
Exit polls show the president's prediction was on the mark.
The national exit poll estimated that about 10 percent of those who voted in the presidential election identified as Hispanic, marking Latinos' highest-ever share of the electorate. Latinos backed Obama over challenger Mitt Romney a resounding 71 to 27 percent.
Gary Segura, a pollster for Latino Decisions and a professor at Stanford University, told reporters on Wednesday that he believes the exit poll understated Latinos' support for Obama by 4 points, and that the president actually won 75 percent of their vote.
Segura estimates that Latinos gave Obama an extra 2.3 percentage points in the popular vote. If Romney had managed to nab just 35 percent of Latinos, he would have won the popular vote, Segura said. (President George W. Bush captured at least that share of Latinos in 2000 and 2004, showing Republicans are backsliding with the group.)
Leaders of immigrant rights and Latino groups told reporters in a conference call on Wednesday that Obama owes his second term to Latino voters, and should repay them by passing comprehensive immigration reform. Obama promised to pass a law legalizing many of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the country while he campaigned four years ago, and he's been chastised by Latino leaders for breaking his promise.
"Obama is going to return to the White House more energized to take these issues seriously," said Ben Monterroso, the director of Mi Familia Vota, a national organization that encourages Latinos to vote.
Eliseo Medina, secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union, said Latino voters had sent a message to Obama. "We expect leadership on comprehensive immigration reform in 2013," he said. "To both sides we say: 'No more excuses.'"
The heavy pro-Obama Latino vote also sends a message to the Republican Party, which needs to make inroads in the fast-growing Hispanic community to survive. Ana Navarro, a Miami-based Republican political strategist who had warned Republicans to take a softer tone on immigration if they wanted to win the election, wrote on Twitter that gaining only 27 percent of the Latino vote is a "disgrace."
Most Latino voters said in the Latino Decisions poll that the most important issues to them in this election were the economy and jobs. Thirty-five percent of the voters listed immigration reform as their key issue.
"Our party needs to realize that it's too old and too white and too male, and it needs to figure out how to catch up with the demographics of the country before it's too late," Al Cardenas, the head of the American Conservative Union, told Politico. "Our party needs a lot of work to do if we expect to be competitive in the near future."
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- President Barack Obama