By Diego Graglia, FI2W web editor
Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) announced Tuesday he will not be seeking reelection to a second term in 2010.
Coming after dismal results for his party among Hispanic voters both in Florida and nationwide, his decision bolsters the sense of a growing gulf between Latinos and the Republican Party.
Martinez “was seen as vulnerable in a state that has been tilting Democratic, particularly among Latinos,” The New York Times said. After decades of staunch Hispanic support for Republicans in Florida, this year 57 percent of them chose Democrat Barack Obama over John McCain.
“The GOP should find the Hispanic defection in Florida particularly troubling,” wrote Sun Sentinel columnist Kingsley Guy. “Historically, Republican presidential candidates have carried the Hispanic electorate, for years dominated by Cuban-Americans who supported the GOP’s tough-on-Castro policies. Attitudes are changing, however.” The main reason for the low level of Hispanic support, he added, was the virulent debate on immigration reform, which “soured Hispanic voters on the GOP.”
Paradoxically, despite having supported comprehensive reform of immigration laws, Martinez — a Cuban who arrived in the U.S. at age fifteen — appears to have been at least partly a victim of that souring.