The GOP's Russell Pearce Problem

| Fri Mar. 25, 2011 9:23 AM EDT

The latest Census data has prompted a flurry of speculation about the Republican Party's future amid the country's increasingly diverse and increasingly Hispanic population. "We are increasingly metropolitan today, our country is becoming racially and ethnically more diverse over time... and geographically, there are a lot of areas of the country growing in number that have large minority populations," concludes Census Bureau director Robert Groves, as the Washington Post notes. The nation's Hispanic population, in particular, has grown much faster than expected—rising 43 percent to 50.5 million in 2010—and now makes up 16 percent of the country's population. 

The changing demographics cast a shadow over the GOP's prospects, particularly given the party's hard right turn on immigration in recent months. And there's no better example of this Republican conundrum than Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce, the author of the hardline anti-immigration law in the state that set off a political firestorm last year. Pearce hasn't let up on his crackdown on illegal immigrants in the state, and his extreme views have since moved to the mainstream of the GOP as some of his counterparts in Washington have embraced his proposals. The booming Hispanic population could even prompt the party's immigration hardliners to double down—even though rising numbers aren't just a result of illegal immigration, which has actually declined in the last two years.

But in Arizona itself, Pearce is starting to experience a backlash that could foreshadow some of the party's problems ahead. A handful of non-partisan groups have launched an effort to recall the Arizona Senate leader, scrambling to collect thousands of signatures around the state. The groups' members say that Pearce's extreme tactics have gone too far, according to The Mesa Legend:

"We're trying to recall Senator Russell Pearce because he's voted to terminate health care for hundreds of thousands of Arizona families and senior citizens and kids. He slashed public education, and he's just had a general disrespect for the United States constitution," said Geoff Esposito, a member of Citizens for a Better Arizona, while collecting signatures in front of the Mesa Public Library.

The recall effort could send a warning shot to Republicans across the country who've adopted a similarly hardline stance against immigration—a position that could not only alienate Hispanics, but also non-Hispanic swing voters who are put off by the party line. 

That being said, Republicans still have a chance to turn things around. Within Arizona, an anti-Pearce recall movement has also surfaced among moderate Republicans who have been also been put off by his extreme views toward immigrants, including some Mormon leaders—who've generally been more sympathetic toward Hispanics, along with a number of other religious groups. It was only four years ago that George W. Bush tried to pass a comprehensive immigration bill. While the party has taken a hard right turn since Obama's election, moderate voices could still prevail—at some point.

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