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Latinos Vote in 5 States Amid High-Stakes Primaries

More than 1 million Latinos are eligible to vote in the five states holding primaries on Tuesday, although the number registered is likely smaller.
Image: US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump wins Republican primaries in New York
A file picture dated 14 April 2016 shows US Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton (L) and Bernie Sanders standing during the National Anthem at the start of a CNN-sponsored debate between the two candidates at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in Brooklyn, New York, USA. JUSTIN LANE / EPA

Isseniel Rodriguez and a voter mobilization group, Dominicanos USA, have been working Rhode Island for more than a year, prepping for this day when Latinos in the state as well as four others on the East Coast pick their choice for presidential nominee.

The states with primaries Tuesday – Rhode Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland – are not the first to roll off the tongue in talk about the Latino electorate.

But altogether, they hold 1.03 million eligible Latino voters, according to Pew Research Center. Not all will have registered by deadlines that run from February 26 to Tuesday, diminishing the impact.

Southwest Voter Registration Education Project estimated that in 2012 about 515,000 Latinos were registered to vote in those states with turnout of those registered ranging from 81 percent to 91 percent.

The high turnout numbers of those who register represent the continuing presence of the Latino community in a still contentious 2016 primary which has yet to see a candidate sew up a nomination.

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Dusty DeVinney prepares to load election materials at the Willowbank building Monday, April 25,2016, in Bellefonte, Pa., in preparation for Tuesday's primary election. For the first time in many years, Democrats and Republicans in Pennsylvania on Tuesday pick presidential candidates in a meaningful primary. A U.S. Senate primary will determine who represents the Democrats this fall in the race to unseat Sen. Pat Toomey, and voters from both parties choose their candidates for attorney general. (Nabil K. Mark/Centre Daily Times via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT; MAGS OUTNabil K. Mark / AP

The states have longtime Latino populations, but also are seeing populations that have gone beyond immigrant communities and now have nascent political movements within them.

Rodriguez, the Rhode Island state organizer for the non-partisan Dominicanos USA, said when the group began its work in the state in 2014, attitudes toward voting among Dominican Americans - a growing group in the state - were far more cavalier.

The group has worked to inform people about the voting process, the effect of their political involvement on their lives and their children’s lives and now, “I think it is starting to shift,” he said.

“I’ve seen a change in the community where the conversation is not about the negative part of politics, but about what issues are important to us and how can we use the power of voting to get what’s best for us,” Rodriguez said.

Related: Dominicanos USA Registers 100,000 Voters In Its First Year

Tuesday’s vote was not expected to alter the frontrunner status of Donald Trump for the GOP and Hillary Clinton for Democrats.

But news of a deal by Ted Cruz and John Kasich to try to stop Trump in later primaries and force a contested GOP convention and the continued attacks by Bernie Sanders on Hillary Clinton are enough to keep the contest competitive to keep up the electorate’s interest.

As in other parts of the country, much of the Latino electorate in the five states leans Democrat.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks during a Community Conversation on Young Men of Color event in Baltimore, Maryland on April 23, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / YURI GRIPASYURI GRIPAS/AFP/Getty ImagesYURI GRIPAS / AFP - Getty Images

In Redding, Pa., where the population is 58 percent Latino and predominantly Puerto Rican, Adanjesús Marín said he’s not yet giving up on Bernie despite the challenge he has in matching Clinton's delegate count.

Marín, chairman of the Working Families Pennsylvania Political Action Committee, said Sanders’ ideas stand more chance of being part of the Democratic nominee’s platform if he continues to California’s June 7 primary. The state offers Democratic candidates 548 delegates, divvied up proportionally.

“It’s clear Hilary’s positions greatly improved because Bernie Sanders has been a candidate in the race and to me its important for us to go all the way to the convention,” said Marín, whose national group has endorsed Sanders. “I think it will help the chances of whoever wins the nomination, of winning in November.

Marín is also involved with the non-partisan Make the Road Pennsylvania, which is leading a fight to shut down the Berks Family Detention Center, which detains immigrant families. Sanders has called for the center to be shut down, which Marín said was a huge boost for the community.

Philadelphia City Council member Maria Quiñones Sanchez actually agrees with Marín that Sanders has made Clinton a better candidate and pushed her to take positions on issues that she may not have. He has also been forceful on important issues like Puerto Rico's financial crisis, she said. But Quiñones is a Clinton supporter and expects the Latino community also will be in the Clinton camp Tuesday.

The memory is long in Philadelphia and other areas in the Latino community and the economic prosperity during the presidency of Bill Clinton hasn’t been forgotten, she said.

Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton takes photographs with supporters at Southwest College in Los Angeles, California, United States, April 16, 2016.LUCY NICHOLSON / Reuters

“We have one of the largest poverty constituencies (in Philadelphia) and deep poverty and when you poll Latinos they are concerned about the economy. People can make that relationship” to the Bill Clinton White House, she said.

She expects Sanders will remain in the race through California, but said ultimately the party has to come together to defeat the Republican nominee.

“What I’m hopeful for is that people like Elizabeth Warren and others will intercede to get the party together. Now he’s taking shots at her, which is what I was hoping he wouldn’t do,” Quiñones Sanchez said. “The Republicans are doing such a good job at killing each other … We don’t need to get into that fray.”

(FILES)This combination of file photos shows Republilcan presidential candidates Ted Cruz(L) Donald Trump (C)and John Kasich. Ted Cruz and John Kasich have agreed to join forces to try to deny frontrunner Donald Trump the Republican Party's presidential nomination, their campaigns said April 24, 2016. The sudden alliance, revealed in short statements, arose due to the pressing timing of the Republican party's presidential primary season. / AFP PHOTO / dskDSK/AFP/Getty ImagesDSK / AFP - Getty Images

Here's some facts about the Latino electorate in each state from Pew Research Center.

  • Connecticut – The state's 280,000 Latino eligible voters are 11 percent of the total eligible voters. Breakdown: 68.3 percent Puerto Rican; 5.3 percent Mexican; 4.1 percent Dominican; 1.9 percent Cuban; 0.5 percent Salvadoran; 19.9 percent other.
  • Delaware – The state's 40,000 Latino eligible voters are 6 percent of the total eligible voters Breakdown 47.5 percent Puerto Rican; 29.7 percent Mexican; 4.9 percent Cuban; 4.1 percent Dominican; 13.3 percent other.
  • Maryland – The state's 199,000 Latino eligible voters are 5 percent of the total eligible voters. Breakdown: 20.7 percent Salvadoran, 18.9 percent Mexican; 16.6 percent Puerto Rican, 5 percent Dominican; 4.1 percent Cuban and 34.6 percent other.
  • Pennsylvania – The state's 440,000 Latino eligible voters are 5 percent of the total eligible voters. Breakdown: 63.9 percent Puerto Rican; 10.8 percent Mexican; 7.5 percent Dominican; 3.3 percent Cuban; 0.6 percent Salvadoran; 13.9 percent other.
  • Rhode Island – The state's 68,000 eligible Latino voters are 9 percent of the total eligible voters. Breakdown: 35.8 percent Puerto Rican; 29.7 Dominican; 5.6 percent Mexican; 2.3 percent Cuban; 1.5 percent Salvadoran; 25.2 percent other.

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