Obama, McCain court rising Latino vote
Hispanics could decide the outcome in some swing states in the West.
Hispanic voters are being courted with unprecedented vigor ahead of November's presidential election, amid rising prospects that they could be the decisive bloc in several key battleground states.Skip to next paragraph
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Barack Obama and John McCain both seem keenly aware of Hispanics' political growth spurt and of their potential to turn the election, opening offices in Spanish-speaking neighborhoods, trying to win over advocacy groups, and targeting ads to Hispanics. Each is slated to talk to the largest Hispanic rights organization in the US, the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), during its annual convention Sunday and Monday in San Diego.
"It's going to be a historic election ... because Latinos are responding in an unprecedented manner to take part," says Clarissa Martinez De Castro, director of immigration and national campaigns for NCLR. "You can't get to the White House anymore without building a relationship [with] and being concerned about the Latino community."
While the political attention is generating a mix of excitement and hope among Hispanics, many NCLR attendees wonder if anything will change as a result. Will it ultimately bring about immigration reform allowing for eventual citizenship for many illegal immigrants, put more Hispanics in high-level administration positions, help end discrimination, or ease the plight of hard-working families coping in tough economic times?
The level of expectation for movement on those issues, dear to the heart of a majority of the Latino community, is likely to determine whether Hispanics vote in larger-than-usual numbers – and for whom. So far, say many NCLR conference-goers from across the US, this election year is ushering in a new era of Hispanic involvement in the political process.
"This is a community that has matured and has the potential to bring out people who any elected official would be interested in," says Lori Saldaña, a member of California's state Assembly and an Obama delegate to next month's Democratic National Convention. Still, she says, the full potential of the Hispanic vote is not yet realized because many citizens aren't registered to vote. The community is starting to stir politically, she says, but has yet to fully wake up and be heard.
About 45.5 million Hispanics live in the United States, making up 15 percent of the population. But because many are not American citizens and cannot vote, they will amount to about 9 percent of eligible voters in November, according to a Pew Hispanic Center report from December. If earlier voting trends hold, Hispanics will comprise only 6.5 percent of overall turnout, the study found.
Despite the low number, this potential swing vote is concentrated in a few hotly contested states. Senator Obama last week was blunt about Hispanics' importance: "This election could well be decided by Latino voters." In the 2004 election, 40,000 Latinos registered to vote in New Mexico didn't turn out, and Democrat John Kerry lost the state by fewer than 6,000 votes.