Numbers show Hispanic voters carried the day for Colorado Democrats

Eighty-one percent of Latino voters in Colorado voted for Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet. Split the Latino vote down the middle between Bennet and Republican Ken Buck and Buck wins easily. Even if Buck had only received 30 percent of the Latino vote, he would have won the election.

As it was, Buck barely out-polled gubernatorial candidate and anti-immigration hardliner Tom Tancredo among Hispanics.

Roughly 10 percent of voters in Colorado are Latino, according to Latino Decisions, a non-partisan polling and opinion research firm run by two West Coast political science professors.

Sens. Michael Bennet, left, and Mark Udall address the crowd Wednesday on the grounds of The Museum of Nature and Science.

What were the issues that drove Hispanic voters? Issues important to Hispanic voters were pretty much the same as the issues important to everyone else.

According to polling done by Latino Decisions, 48 percent of Latino voters said jobs and the economy ranked as the most important issues. Thirty-seven percent said immigration was most important.

Political consultant Lorena Chambers
takes the idea that Latino voters care about the sames things as Anglo voters one step further, saying that immigration is not even a first-tier issue for Latino voters.

“Latinos are simply not a one-trick pony. Project New West polling had found consistently time after time that jobs, the economy, education and health care are their top issues,” Chambers said on a conference call with reporters this week. She said that as recently as the weekend before the election, polling showed that economic issues far outweighed other issues with Hispanics. She said immigration was important, but that candidates first had to pass muster on economic issues.

Mike Melanson, John Hickenlooper’s campaign manager, discussed the Hispanic vote and immigration as a political issue in a conference call earlier this week. He said the Hickenlooper campaign saw an uptick in early voting among Hispanics this year — the first time he had seen that in a non-presidential year. He said Hispanic voters are a very strong element in Colorado and that it was a mistake by Republicans to focus on immigration in a negative way.

“Republicans have an option – continue to let extremist leaders define their stance on immigration or come to the table and present a clear solution to the immigration issue,” Clarissa Martinez De Castro said in a press release Thursday. She is the director of immigration and national campaigns at the National Council of La Raza. “Latinos in 2010 reaffirmed their influential role in American politics,” she added.

In the same release, issued by America’s Voice, Jessie Ulibarri, the Colorado State director for the Mi Familia Vota Civic Participation Campaign, summed up the role of Latino voters in Colorado and beyond, saying, “We need to put to rest the idea that Latino community is a sleeping giant. We are an ignored giant, but no more. Latino voters are informed and active all across Colorado and western states.”

Considering that in this election in Colorado Republicans had a six point advantage at the polls and yet lost some key races, one has to conclude that there was something going on beyond women and Hispanics voting Democratic.

Melanson thinks he knows the answer.

“The key to winning here for Democrats came down to the quality of Democratic candidates and also the development over the years of a base outside of the Democratic Party made up of unaffiliated young voters and women voters, [many of whom are] very moderate and very non-partisan. I go back to the nature of the candidates, which was the real key: John Hickenlooper, Michael Bennet and Ed Perlmutter are pragmatic problem solvers — very centrist.

“You have to look at their opponents too –T om Tancreedo, Ken Buck and Ryan Frazier are all candidates who did embrace the Tea Party movement fairly strongly. Tancredo really made immigration a central theme of his campaign and just didn’t take off,” Melanson noted.

He said Hickenlooper’s polling was more accurate than the public “non-partisan” polling that got so much play in the press. He said the methodology of most polling is simply flawed and skewed toward older more conservative voters.

Melanson also said he thought Hickenlooper’s insistence on running a positive campaign played a role in his large margin.

“John was very adamant about running a positive campaign, and we heard that even if we won, we would win without a majority of the electorate. I believe pretty strongly that was a message that resonated with younger voters and with unaffiliated women, particularly in suburban areas.”

Melanson said he didn’t really think Hickenlooper’s coattails lifted other candidates, but he said he thought the problems the Republicans had with the governor’s race probably did hurt other Republicans.

“When you look at the disarray of the Republican Party, which was sharply exemplified in the governor’s race with what happened with (Scott) McInnis, the rise and fall of Dan Maes, and with Tancredo getting in, there was a negative wash that trickled down into other races to where people had to ask themselves whether the Republican choice was the best one for them.”

He said that if Republicans continue to nominate extremist candidates and the Democrats continue to nominate centrists, then Colorado will continue to see Democrats elected.

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Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

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