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What Supreme Court decision will have most political impact? Not health care

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Yuri Gripas/REUTERS

(Read caption) People protest against the Arizona immigration law in front of the US Supreme Court in Washington June 25.

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Washington may be in a state of frenzied anticipation over the upcoming US Supreme Court decision on President Obama's health-care reform. But the judicial ruling that could have the bigger impact on the presidential election may have already happened.

We're referring to the court's decision on the Arizona immigration law, which came Monday morning and served as a kind of capstone to an eventful week and a half dominated largely by the politics of immigration – a period that was actually pretty good for the president (health-care predictions notwithstanding) and pretty uncomfortable for Mitt Romney

Let's review. Over the past 10 days:

Polls have shown that most independent voters approve of the Arizona law (as well as a strong majority of Republicans), so it's possible Romney will win some supporters for his stance. But it seems more likely that the decision will galvanize Hispanics, who were strongly opposed to the law. 

And if that's the case, we may be about to see Obama's lead among Hispanic voters go from "strong" to "utterly devastating." 

According to a USA Today/Gallup poll released Monday – but conducted before any of the above events – the president was leading Romney among Hispanics by 66 to 25 percent. That puts Obama almost exactly where he was in 2008, when he won 67 percent of the Hispanic vote. But given all that has recently unfolded – and that a Gallup survey conducted last week found 8 out of 10 Hispanics approve of Obama's move to protect children of illegal immigrants from deportation – it's entirely possible Obama's lead in the polls will widen.

Notably, the USA Today/Gallup poll found Romney running six points behind Sen. John McCain's 2008 performance (Senator McCain won 31 percent of Hispanics). If the 6 percent who supported McCain but are not currently backing Romney wind up choosing Obama instead, that would put the president above 70 percent among Hispanics.

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More important, it could shift the electoral map – making Western states like Nevada, New Mexico, and Colorado far tougher climbs for Romney and making Arizona a genuine tossup. If the West starts to shift strongly toward Obama, that leaves Romney with a much, much narrower path to the White House.  


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