By Luciana Lopez
MIAMI (Reuters) - Latinos angered by Donald Trump's tough stance on immigration could have been the Republican candidate's biggest obstacle on the road to the White House.
As it turned out, the brash New York businessman won enough Hispanic votes in Tuesday's election to defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton, with some Hispanics who supported him citing everything from ambivalence on immigration to conservative values and job growth.
Reuters/Ipsos Election Day polling showed 28 percent of America's Hispanic voters cast ballots for Trump, compared to 66 percent for Clinton, putting him on a par with Republican Mitt Romney's performance with the group in 2012. That outcome helped Trump upset Clinton in the critical battleground state of Florida, where he won 31 percent of Latino voters, while fending off challenges in border states such as Texas and Arizona.
Trump's win on Tuesday came as a blow to pro-immigrant advocates who had been hoping that his calls for mass deportations of undocumented foreigners, as well as a massive border wall with Mexico, would drive Latinos to the polls against him in a showcase of rising Hispanic political power.
"In our point of view, Latinos did their part to stop Trump," said Frank Sharry, executive director of immigrants’ rights group America’s Voice. But he added: "There’s going to be a lot of finger pointing."
On the streets of Miami overnight Tuesday, celebrations by Latino Trump supporters offered a glimpse of his appeal.
"He supports my values," said Humberto Quintero, 55, a Venezuelan-American who was among a large crowd celebrating outside Versailles Restaurant in a Cuban neighborhood in Miami, as cars passed honking their horns.
He said Trump's promise to restore American manufacturing jobs was also an important issue for him. "When I was young, everything was made in America," Quintero said. "Now everything is made in China."
He said he also backed Trump's plan for a wall.
"In your house you don’t let everybody come inside without your permission," he said.
Hispanics made up 17.6 of the U.S. population in 2015, up 12 percent from 2012, according to the U.S. Census, making them the country's largest ethnic minority. By 2060, more than one-in-four people in America will be Latino.
President Barack Obama won 70 percent of the Latino vote during his 2012 re-election bid while his challenger Romney took 28 percent, the same as Trump this time around.
INSULTS HIT A CHORD
Trump’s relationship with Hispanic voters started on an awkward footing when he began his campaign in June 2015, calling for tighter borders and accusing Mexico of sending rapists and drug dealers into the United States.
He insisted he would force Mexico to pay for a multi-billion-dollar wall along the border to keep unwanted foreigners out of the United States, and vowed to round up and deport the 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the country.
Those positions, which became a cornerstone of his campaign, resonated badly on Tuesday with many voters along the U.S. side of the Mexican border.
"When he said the Mexicans were rapists and all this, drug dealers and stuff, it did kind of hit a chord," said Jazmin Gonzalez, 31, a Mexican-American from the Barrio Logan neighborhood in San Diego who voted for Clinton. "We know our people."
Miguel Perez, 49, a maintenance engineer in Southern California who came to the United States from Mexico when he was 10, said he also voted for Clinton on Tuesday - mainly just to stop Trump.
“I would have voted for Donald Duck if I had to,” he said after casting his ballot at San Ysidro High School near the border with Mexico.
Clinton had sought to contrast her campaign with Trump’s by advocating for a path to citizenship for most undocumented immigrants living in the country. She also hired immigrant activists for her campaign and featured undocumented immigrants at rallies.
But she and the Democratic Party had at times raised the ire of Latino activists by focusing too heavily on bashing Trump while putting forward less-than-substantive efforts to appeal directly to Latinos, and rejecting pressure to name an Hispanic running mate.
Clinton's socially progressive platform, including her support of abortion rights, also may have rankled some religious conservatives within the Hispanic community.
Lilian Enriquez, 45, a pastor who voted in Tucson, Arizona, on Tuesday, declined to say who she supported. But she said her vote was based largely on her sense of morality.
"The United States is a country that has been cheapened morally, and I do not want to see ... people living a way that goes against the way of God," she said.
Activist groups wanted to boost turnout among Latinos this year but figures are not yet in. In 2008, less than half of Latinos who were eligible to cast ballots actually did – and the rate dipped in 2012, according to the census. In contrast, the voting rates for white and black voters were both well over 60 percent.
(Additional reporting by David Alire Garcia and Joanna Bernstein; Editing by Rich Valdmanis, Mary Milliken and Bill Trott)