An unlikely couple doomed the Republican campaigns in 2010.  One was Gloria Allred.  You knew Meg Whitman might as well take her $150 million dollars and light a bonfire with them after Allred produced the weeping illegal housekeeper that Whitman had fired.  The GOP campaign was all over then, what was less clear is that it was all over much earlier, thanks to the second member of the odd couple: Russell Pearce.

Russell Pearce, who’s he, you ask?  In 2010, he was President Pro Tem of the Arizona Senate, but best known as the author of the Arizona law on illegal immigrants.  Throughout 2010 passage of that law caused huge ferment in Latino communities, not only in Arizona but in other states.   Acute observers noted something was happening here, Latinos not only knew about the law, they even knew the number of the law (it’s SB 1070).  Democrats used this ferment to turn out an even higher Latino vote in 2010 than in the presidential year 2008, and it managed to sink every single Republicans in California, even GOP attorney general candidate Steve Cooley who was never behind in a single poll.

Well, we will always have Gloria Allred with us, as Herman Cain just found out.  But Russell Pearce; well that is a different story.

This month in a special recall election, the good citizens of Pearce’s Senate district in Arizona recalled him from office, and they did so in large part over his sponsorship of the anti-immigration law.   Pearce represented Mesa, a very conservative Phoenix suburb with a heavy Mormon population.  Latino activists qualified the recall over the summer but the candidate that emerged against Pearce was actually a conservative Republican charter school manager named Jerry Lewis.

Like Pearce, Lewis is a Mormon, and that was key to the recall.  Mormons are very family oriented, and many saw Pearce as a bully who wanted to separate illegal immigrant parents from their children.  Mormons also put great effort into their missionary work, and church missionaries were detecting a hostile attitude against Arizonans on missions in Latin America.

And so in this very conservative and Republican district, 53 percent of the voters on November 8 tossed Pearce from office and replaced him with a candidate who opposed the Arizona law as excessively harsh and anti-family.  This could well mark the end of the virulent Republican immigrant bashing, the kind of thing Pearce made famous.

There’s a second factor likely to change the politics of illegal immigration.  Instead of flooding California as many people believe, illegal immigrants may well be going home.  That’s the result of California’s dreadful economy.  Earlier this year the Los Angeles Times reported that, “Mexican census figures show that fewer Mexicans are setting out, and many are returning – leaving net migration at close to zero….  Arrests by the U.S. Border Patrol along the Southwestern frontier, a common gauge of how many people try to cross without papers, tumbled to 304,755 during the 11 months ending in August, extending a nearly steady drop since a peak of 1.6 million in 2000.”

More evidence that this is occurring is found in a study in the city of Santa Ana, as reported in the Orange County Register.   “With the downturn in the economy, Mexicans residing in Santa Ana legally and illegally began to look south. In the city of about 325,000, this Mexican flight has manifested itself in a number of ways: Census data show a decline in the city’s Latino population. Schools report plummeting enrollment. Foreclosed homes abound in historically Mexican immigrant neighborhoods.”  Census figures for 2010 bear this out.  Santa Ana, a city whose population is 78 percent Latino, is one of only two major California cities to have lost population in the past decade (the other is Oakland).

A major reason for the national Republican landslide in 2010 is that blue collar workers have abandoned the Democratic Party.  But in California, the blue collar folks are largely minority, and Republican xenophobia has driven them away.  But what will happen if Republican immigration policies moderate, especially if there are fewer illegal immigrants?

Democratic job creation takes the form of encouraging green jobs, but there are not that many, just a couple hundred thousand in a state of 16 million workers, and are of almost no value to Latino workers.  The jobs they filled in the blue collar manufacturing industries have atrophied in California. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, Latino families took the biggest blow during the recession, accounting for the largest decline of wealth of any ethnic group in the nation. So the signs of a return to Mexico for many immigrant workers.

Defeat of people like Pearce and the actual decline of illegal immigrants in California could well change the politics of immigration.  Will Latino voters turn out in the massive numbers for Democrats as we saw in 2008 and 2010 with so little evidence the Obama Administration and Democratic policies have made their lives better?  And is there a chance for Republicans to again appeal to middle class Latino voters as they did in the Reagan years?