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Will Trump hit a wall with surging Hispanic vote?
[LOS ANGELES] Donald Trump is fond of saying Hispanics love him, but his Republicans face an all-but-impossible task in winning over the fast-growing, Democratic-leaning group that the billionaire has alienated time and again.
In California, whose Republican White House primary takes place June 7, the Grand Old Party is facing a massive challenge in the most populous US state where whites no longer are a majority.
Hispanics are the largest US minority group and a majority of Hispanic Americans are Mexican American; Mr Trump has enraged many by referring to Mexicans as rapists and drug dealers, and pledging to build a wall on the US-Mexico border.
Ronald Reagan's once-Republican-leaning California has become increasingly diverse, Hispanic and Democratic at the ballot box. And no Republican has won presidential polls in the state in over two decades.
"This is the worst nightmare for the national Republican party," said Raul Hinojosa, Associate Professor at the UCLA Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies.
"What has happened to the Republican Party in California is that they have become irrelevant electorally," he said. "They have no expectation of winning a senate or governor's seat for the foreseeable future."
According to a recent Gallup study 77 per cent of Latinos have a negative view of Mr Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee.
In California, Hispanics now make up the largest single racial or cultural group and account for 20 per cent of the state's four million registered voters.
"The Latino vote more than doubled in the last 20 years," said Prof Hinojosa.
And according to Diana Colin, of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, registered Republicans make up just 16.5 per cent of the state's Hispanic voters.
To glance around crowds at Trump speeches in California these days, the billionaire businessman and reality TV star appears to have had success courting whites, Asian, men, women, young people and old... but very few Latinos.
Among the anti-Trump protesters who regularly picket his rallies, there are a great deal of Hispanics toting signs denouncing the billionaire as "xenophobic" or "racist."
Mr Trump has threatened to deport the country's estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants - which experts say has fueled a surge in voter registration among Hispanics.
According to Political Data, a group that tracks electoral data, two million new voters have registered in California since January 1 - a 200-per cent jump compared to 2012. Half are Democrat, and a quarter are Hispanic.
"There has been a huge Latino turnout," said Ms Colin.
Of course these are not all Democrats, but Republicans are a small minority, Prof Hinojosa noted.
And the hard demographic fact is that Mexican Americans make up more than 60 per cent of Hispanics in the United States.
Many of them benefited from a massive amnesty under the Ronald Reagan administration in 1986.
"The vast majority of (the Latino) population is related to an undocumented person - that share is very high, and the sympathy is very in favour of immigrant rights," Ms Colin stressed.
But there are other voices, too, among America's Latino voters.
In the past, Cuban Americans tended to vote Republican; some immigrants from South American countries have warmed to Trump's tough stance on illegal migration, Prof Hijonosa said.
"This notion that you're the good guys, you're the legal immigrants," he explained.
Delores Chavez, of the California Republican National Hispanic Assembly, suspects the true number of Latino Trump supporters may be higher - and that they are simply afraid to go public with their support.
"There's a lot of Trump voters in the closet who are afraid of being chastised if they say they support him," she said.
But there is no denying that Hispanics have become a demographic time bomb for the Republicans.
Aside from their clout in California, Latinos are forecast to make up one third of the US population by 2060, official data shows. That would mean 30 to 40 million Latino voters in the next 15 years, Prof Hinojosa said.
Many states, thanks in part to that trend, are shifting demographically towards voting Democratic - such as Texas and Florida, he said.