By David Lightman - Hispanic voters are poised this year to be the swing votes for president in many of the nation’s swing states. They’re expected to vote in big numbers again for President Barack Obama, and their numbers are growing. In Colorado, Nevada, Florida, North Carolina and Virginia, they very well could determine whether Obama wins another term or is succeeded by Republican Mitt Romney.
If they turn out.
“The president has consistently had broad voter support. The question was enthusiasm,” said Matt Barreto, a co-founder of Latino Decisions, which studies Hispanic voting behavior.
That may be why Obama has vaulted immigration to the forefront of the 2012 campaign, at least for the moment. His announcement last Friday that the government will stop deporting thousands of young undocumented workers was a jolt of fresh energy for Hispanic voters. The president hopes to continue the momentum this Friday when he addresses the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials in Orlando.
Romney, who’ll speak Thursday at the group’s convention, has a tougher task. Earlier this year, he urged illegal immigrants to engage in “self-deportation” and said he would have opposed Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the nation’s first Latino justice, nominated by Obama.
Barreto’s swing state poll last week showed enthusiasm for Obama growing among Latino voters. The president won the Hispanic vote in 2008 by 67 to 31 percent, exit polls found, and he’s in position to put up similar margins this time. Whether he can sustain enough passion to get more people to show up at the polls is the open question, however...
In major battleground states, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, the percentage of eligible Hispanic voters has been growing.
– Florida, 15.9 percent in 2010, up from 14.5 percent in 2008.
– Nevada, 15.1 percent in 2010, up from 13.5 percent in 2008.
– Colorado, 13.7 percent in 2010, up from 12.6 percent in 2008.
– Virginia, 3.7 percent in 2010, up from 3.3 percent in 2008.
– North Carolina, 2.9 percent in 2010, up from 2.1 percent in 2008.
Each state has a different story.
In Colorado, “if Romney gets 30 percent he’ll be pleased,” Denver-based strategist Floyd Ciruli said. Romney has one possible advantage: During the February caucus, he was painted as the centrist in the race, losing to conservative Rick Santorum.
In Nevada, Democrats have a big edge: The Latino vote was a huge boost for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., two years ago in his tight re-election race. But Eric Herzik, a professor of political science at University of Nevada, Reno, warned that turnout is difficult to predict; the huge influx of new residents in recent years has left the state without strong political traditions and organizations.
In Florida, the diverse Hispanic community is trending Democratic. More Hispanics were registered as Republicans in 2006, but more were registered as Democrats two years later, according to Pew. The Democratic edge in registration among Florida Hispanics persists.
The numbers are smaller in Virginia and North Carolina, but big enough to make a difference in a close contest. Obama is up by 3 percentage points in Virginia, according to the poll consensus, while Romney is up 3.3 percentage points in North Carolina.
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