Pouring out in record numbers for President Barack Obama, Latinos added a strong voice to the broad labor-led, rainbow coalition that clinched the president's re-election last week.
Latinos voted for President Obama over Republican Mitt Romney by 71 to 27 percent, according to an analysis of exit polls by the Pew Hispanic Center.
In 2008, Obama received 67 percent of the Latino vote. This year, Romney's 29 percent Latino vote was lower than Republican presidential candidates received in 2008, 2004, and 2000.
As with the general electorate, polls revealed that immigration isn't the top issue that drove most Latinos to the polls; jobs and the economy are.
But immigration is a litmus test for many Latino voters - and for good reason.
Sixty percent of those polled by impreMedia and Latino Decisions said they knew an undocumented immigrant.
That is likely to include millions of Latino voters who were once undocumented immigrants and are now naturalized U.S. citizens (beneficiaries of former "amnesty" programs) or have relatives, friends or neighbors who are undocumented immigrants.
Many Latinos became more enthusiastic about the president after his June announcement he would no longer deport some young undocumented immigrants who fit the general requirements of the Dream Act, which enjoys the overwhelming support of Latino voters. (Though the president and most Democrats support it, Republicans have consistently blocked the Dream Act from becoming law).
Romney, on the other hand, took a hard-line on immigration, calling for "self-deportation" - essentially forcing undocumented immigrants to leave by making their lives hard - and for vetoing the Dream Act.
"Romney during the primaries put himself into a corner," said Lawrence Benito, CEO of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. "He went to the right of everyone in the Republican field, even respected conservatives, and the Latino and the immigrant community was not fooled."
A number of significant breakthroughs in this election reflected a marked growth in progressive trends among Latinos as well as among the general electorate on issues particular to the Latino community.
In the national exit poll, when asked what should happen to unauthorized immigrants working in the U.S, 77 percent of Hispanic voters said these immigrants should be offered a chance to apply for legal status while 18 percent said they should be deported.
But just as significant was the response among all voters, given the barrage of anti-immigrant state initiatives and the vitriol coming from the Republican camp.
Nearly two-thirds of all voters said undocumented immigrant workers should be offered a chance to apply for legal status, while 28 percent said they should be deported.
Hispanics made up a growing share of voters in Florida and two other key battleground states won by the president, Nevada and Colorado. Exit polls showed 34 percent of Florida's Hispanic voters were Cuban, while 57 percent were non-Cuban.
This year, in another breakthrough, the Pew Hispanic Center said Cuban voters in Florida broke in favor of the Democratic presidential candidate for the first time in more than five decades, going for President Obama by 49 percent to 47 percent for Romney.
This reflects a growing progressive trend among the new generation of Cuban Americans, decidedly breaking with those elements of the reactionary oligarchy and dependent rightwing sectors that settled in Miami and drove much of Florida's politics after the 1959 Cuban revolution.
A growing Puerto Rican population in central Florida also contributed to the president's improved showing among Hispanic voters.
The Pew Center's analysis also shows that as a group, non-white voters made up 28 percent of the nation's electorate, up from 26 percent in 2008. Republicans flaunted their "unprecedented" efforts in 2012 to win the Latino vote, including wider get-out-the-vote efforts and more Spanish-language advertising.
Romney's son Craig, fluent in Spanish, appeared on his father's behalf before Latino audiences, as did Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and several other Latino Republicans. Those "unprecedented" efforts failed miserably, as the election results showed.
Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, a pro-immigrant advocacy group, said, "Today our nation witnessed the strength of democracy in action. An extraordinary number of voters, including record numbers of Latino, Asian and New American voters, went to the polls clamoring for practical solutions that honor our values and move our nation forward."
Photo: Associated Press