Latino Voters Ready to Strike in 2008

In a close election, the strongly Democratic-leaning Latino electorate in Colorado – though a modest percentage of the total – may decide the outcome.Voters in swing states such as Colorado may make the difference in the 2008 presidential election, and as the fastest-growing voting bloc, Colorado Latinos, are poised to have a greater political impact than ever before.

“The word is really getting out that there is a historic opportunity for Latinos to really make a big impact in 2008,” said Evan Bacalao of the National Association for Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, which is a partner organization in the nationwide Ya es Hora citizenship and voter mobilization campaigns. “As far as a percentage of the total electorate voting in 2008, we expect a marked improvement over the last presidential election.”

In the 2004 election, 9.3 million Latinos were registered to vote and 7.6 million reported actually voting. In 2008 those numbers are expected to jump to 10.6 million registered Latinos, 8.6 million of whom will cast a ballot, a 14-percent increase in the number of Latino registrants and voters, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

In Colorado, where Hispanics are 19 percent of the total population but only 12.3 percent of the electorate, Latino voters are expected to comprise just over 9 percent of the state’s projected voters in 2008, up from 8 percent in 2004. Between the 2002 and 2006 elections, more than 36,000 Latinos have registered to vote in Colorado, an increase of 16 percent, according to surveys of Latino voters and analyses conducted by RBI Strategies, a research and political consulting firm that also does public relations work for Colorado Confidential.

Despite only a modest projected increase in the Hispanic electorate in 2008, the boost in Democratic-leaning Colorado Latinos could be enough to swing the state that Bush carried in 2004 by less than 5 percentage points.

“Historically, in close elections, Colorado Latinos do make a difference,” said Roberto Cordova, director of El Voto Latino, a civic participation project of the Greeley League of United Latin American Citizens. “Even with just 8-9 percent, if the election is in that range, we will decide who wins. … In 30 years of community work, I now see the younger generation becoming more aware of the political process and participating in all venues of politics, so I am very hopeful.” 

In the 2004 election, 68 percent of Latino voters in Colorado supported John Kerry and 30 percent George W. Bush, according to exit polls.

If the presidential election were held today, 64 percent of Latino voters in Colorado say they would vote Democratic, and 26 percent say they would go Republican, according to another analysis by RBI Strategies.

The number of Latino registrants continues to rise, in part due to the efforts of several organizations that are working to educate Latinos about the political process and register as many as possible in time to vote in 2008. 

“The election cycle is just one piece of the work we do,” said Dusti Gurule, executive director of the Latina Initiative, which has registered more than 4,200 Colorado voters since the organization formed in 2002. “For us civic engagement and participation is a yearlong practice. We really want to be strategic about the people we register, and we try as much as we can to continue to engage with those people and follow up with them.”

The Latina Initiative, whose mission is to encourage Latinas and their families to participate in the political process, targets low-propensity Latina voters – women who have voted twice or less in the last four elections. Simply to register as many people as possible is not the goal. Rather, Gurule hopes her organization can establish a connection with people and provide them with the information they need to feel confident casting their vote.

“The system really isn’t set up for your average person, who may not have a formal education and is working two jobs,” Gurule said. “So for us that shows how important it is for us to break down the barriers and make the system more accessible for the every day person.”

Voter motivation is also a large part of the strategy of the Latino voter mobilization efforts of El Comite de Longmont, a Latino advocacy and service organization. The group has registered about 500 voters in 2006 and so far in 2007 in and around Longmont and other parts of Boulder County, according to Executive Director Marta Moreno.

“We have to motivate people. We have to tell them why it is important. Some people come from countries with a lot of corruption, so we have to convince them they can make a change and that they need to be involved with politics,” Moreno said. “There is a lot to learn and a lot to comprehend – the ones that are confused are the ones we especially need to reach out to.”

Out of nearly 3.3 million eligible voters in Colorado, Latinos number just over 405,000. Their electoral clout is lessened by the fact that many Latinos are ineligible to vote either because they are not citizens or are not yet 18 years old.

A recent Pew Hispanic Center report found that Hispanics who align with the Democrats heavily favor Hillary Clinton for the nomination. The Pew report found that fewer than one in six Latino adults is aware there is a Latino candidate for president, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat. Among Latino Democrats, Richardson has only 8 percent support compared with 59 percent for Clinton and 15 percent for Barack Obama.

On the Republican side, Rudy Giuliani is favored by 35 percent of registered Latino voters who align with the GOP, followed by Fred Thompson and  John McCain.

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Kate Bernuth

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