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For Dems, Latino votes are key this year

On the ground in Colorado, workers trying to get out the Latino vote are talking about state ballot initiatives aimed at cutting spending.
Sharron Angle
Campaign signs for Nevada U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle are seen on the side of a street in Searchlight, Nev., on Thursday.Julie Jacobson / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

On the ground in Colorado, workers trying to get out the Latino vote are talking about state ballot initiatives aimed at cutting spending.

For Latinos, the cuts could mean loss of library services, teacher and public sector jobs and transportation, said Jess Ulibarri, state director of Mi Familia Vota (My Family Votes), a get-out-the-vote group.

"When we talk to voters in Pueblo, folks really understand what less taxes means in terms of how that will really impact your family," said Ulibarri, whose group is working with two others to encourage Colorado Latinos to go to the polls Tuesday.

For Democratic Rep. John Salazar, the Hispanic turnout in Pueblo could decide whether he gets a fourth term representing Colorado's Western Slope. He's not alone in needing a high turnout among Latino supporters.

Arturo Vargas, executive director of the bipartisan National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, said Hispanics have the potential to swing several gubernatorial and congressional races.

"It's not just where Latinos are running that Latinos will make a difference, but in states with major contests among non-Latinos," said Vargas, whose group tracks the Latino vote.

Reps. Loretta Sanchez's district in Southern California and Ciro Rodriguez's district in Texas have a much bigger Hispanic voter base than Salazar's, but their jobs also hang on how many Latinos turn out.

Hispanic voter turnout
A Pew Hispanic Center poll of Latino voters last month found that they were far less likely to vote than non-Hispanic voters but that more than two-thirds of those who expect to vote planned to support the Democratic candidate in their district.

Vargas is projecting 6.5 million Latinos will vote this year, up from 5.6 million in the 2006 midterms. The Census Bureau estimates that 9.7 million Latinos voted in 2008.

Salazar's pitch to Hispanics, who make up 15 percent of the voters in his district, is that Republicans stood in the way of passing immigration reform.

"We try to reach out," he said. "I'm one of us. I'm Latino."

The Republican candidate, Scott Tipton, who opposes providing legal status to people in the country illegally, is emphasizing jobs and the economy.

Unlike the last midterm election in 2006, states with large Hispanic populations also are host to some of the most competitive races this year. That works in Democrats' favor, contends Andres Ramirez, vice president of the New Democratic Network, a liberal advocacy and research group.

"I think Jerry Brown gets saved in California because of the increase in the Latino vote," said Ramirez, pointing to the governor's race between Brown, a Democrat, and Republican Meg Whitman. He also cited Texas and Nevada, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has courted Latinos with Spanish language ads and a failed effort to get a Senate vote on giving young Hispanics in the U.S. a chance at citizenship.

Reid's race with Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle is a tossup. Hispanic groups have protested how some of Angle's mailings and ads have portrayed Hispanics and the illegal immigration issue. Reid also has tried to capitalize on her comment earlier this month to a group of Hispanic high school students that "some of you look a little more Asian to me."

Latino GOP candidates
Republicans expect to cut into the Latino vote with Hispanic candidates of their own.

Despite his tough views on illegal immigration, former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio has a strong lead over Republican-turned-independent Charlie Crist and Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek in the race for a Senate seat in Florida.

In New Mexico, where a third of the registered voters are Hispanic, Republican Susana Martinez stands a good chance of becoming the nation's first elected Latina governor.

The GOP also looks to Hispanic candidates Bill Flores to take away veteran Democratic Rep. Chet Edwards' seat in Texas and Jon Barela to defeat freshman Rep. Martin Heinrich in New Mexico.