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Will Latino voters swing the midterms?

Victoriano Espinosa proudly shows off his American passport.  He came to this country in 1976 and became a citizen last year.

“This will be the first time that I vote,” he said through a translator. “I want to contribute my little grain of sand so that poor people will no longer be humiliated.”

Veronica Romero is another new Hispanic registered voter.

“We need to be recognized as not just a people who are here to take other people’s jobs,” she said.  “We are here to work.”

More than 100,000 Hispanics have registered to vote in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Florida and Arizona just in the past 12 months.  In California, community-based organizations have been leading registration drives, hoping to sign up Latino voters in numbers never seen before.

“We have the potential of $920 billion of buying power,” said Angela Sanbrano, executive director of the Los Angeles-based Central American Resource Center.  “Hopefully we can translate that into political power.”

Activist Antonio Gonzalez predicts Latinos will cast up to 6 million votes on Nov. 7, and that their vote could be pivotal in several close races around the country.

“In places like Denver, Albuquerque, South Florida and so on, there are very competitive congressional races and lots of Latino voters,” Gonzalez said. 

Candidates from both major political parties are courting Latinos with unprecedented zeal.  Recent polls suggest Latinos, concerned about jobs, access to health care, the Iraq war and immigration, are looking for change.

“They (Latinos) are blaming the Republicans and by a three to one margin are going to be voting Democrat compared to Republican if the election were held today,” Gonzalez said.

After the U.S. House of Representatives approved a measure to build  more fences along the southern U.S. border and to criminalize illegal immigration, hundreds of thousands of Latinos marched in the streets from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C.  Their slogan was “Today we march, tomorrow we vote.”

But whether the Latino electorate is a sleeping giant that has awoken remains to be seen. Historically, Latino voter turnout in midterm elections has been low.

“If you are not voting you don’t have enough power,” said Luis Valdez, a new citizen.  “So it is very important to get together and vote.”