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By Gerald F.

SeibOne reason Republicans will find it tricky to oppose President Barack Obama's choice of federal appeals judge Sonia Sotomayor for a Supreme Court seat is simple, and purely political: The GOP's problems with Hispanic voters.Conservative reaction to the choice has been swift, and unfriendly.

Judicial activists on the right already are attacking her as a liberal judicial activist and a fan of racial preferences and quotas.But in the political realm where the Senators who will vote on her nomination live, Sotomayor will be seen, above all else, as the first Hispanic woman chosen for the nation's highest court.

And Hispanic voters are an audience where Republicans have had what many in the party already consider their most troublesome slide in recent years.

At the end of the day, will Republican senators want to risk making that trend line worse by voting in opposition?The numbers from presidential election exit polls tell the political story.

In the 2000 presidential vote, George W.

Bush got 35% of the Hispanic voter, to Al Gore's 62%.

That was considered a respectable showing by a Republican among a traditionally Democratic constituency, and many in the GOP thought it laid the groundwork for a steady increase in inroads among Hispanics, led by the Hispanic-friendly President Bush.And indeed, in the 2004 election, Bush's share of the Hispanic vote rose markedly, to 44%, while John Kerry got 53%.

Then, last year, the Republican trend line turned south in a big way.

John McCain got just 31% of the Hispanic vote, exit polls indicated, compared to 67% for President Obama.

To make the trend more worrisome for Republicans, the Hispanic share of the overall vote has been inching upward, to 9% last year from 7% in 2000.
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