In Virginia, The Power of Showing Up

In elections, it doesn't just matter who wins. It also matters how they win: who shows up to vote and why.

We're seeing this yet again in Virginia this week, as Terry McAuliffe kicks off his first term as governor. On his first full day in office Monday, McAuliffe got started on the agenda of progressive reform that he told voters he stood for - including expanding LGBT rights and access to reproductive care, and expanding health care coverage.

He also emphasized a push for Virginia's version of the DREAM Act, which would allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at the state's public colleges and universities. That measure has bipartisan support, but was stalled last year by Republicans in the state legislature. McAuliffe's stance on immigration issues was one of the key things separating him from Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli - and contributed to his critical victory among Latino voters.

Exit polls in 2013 made clear that Latino voters - and a lot of other Virginians to boot - were turned off by the GOP's chilling anti-immigrant rhetoric and opposition to common-sense immigration policies.

A Latino Decisions election-eve poll in Virginia last year, which we sponsored along with America's Voice, found that over half of Latino voters named immigration and the DREAM Act as the most important issues that politicians need to address. Jobs and the economy, education, and health care also ranked highly. And just as importantly, Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli's demeaning remarks about immigrants severely damaged him in the eyes of Latino and Asian American voters. In the end, Virginia's Latino voters favored McAulliffe by a whopping 37 percentage points.

And it's not just immigration. In his speech on Monday, McAulliffe also repeated his intention to push for expanded Medicaid coverage in Virginia, which would provide health coverage to 400,000 uninsured people in the state - a measure that McAulliffe's Republican predecessor Bob McDonnell refused to take.

Republicans are learning the hard way that anti-immigrant extremism is not what American voters want. They are also learning the hard way that America's growing number of Latino voters are not going to sit back and let Republican politicians insult and scapegoat them.

This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post.