Labor activist Dolores Huerta and Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa speak at the NALEO luncheon on the Latino vote.

Labor activist Dolores Huerta and Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa speak at the NALEO luncheon on the Latino vote. (Photo by Sandra Lilley)

Latino leaders united behind Obama’s message at the DNC

As day one of the Democratic convention gets under way, it’s all hands on deck as Latino Democrats insist President Obama deserves a second term.

“I’m with President Obama, because at the worst time in history – in the worst financial crisis since the 1930s, he took it head on,” said DNC Chair Antonio Villaraigosa at a packed luncheon of hundreds of Latinos leaders.

“Are we better off than we were four years ago? Absolutely yes,” said Villaraigosa, saying 9 million Latinos have access to health care due to the Affordable Care Act, and citing growth in the private sector and in manufacturing.

Villaraigosa also called a group of “DREAMers” onstage, which garnered a standing ovation. Saying they “have names, and they are human beings,” Villaraigosa and other leaders said support for DREAMers was a key distinction between Obama and Romney.

Dreamers can apply for deferred action, now what?

“Dime con quien andas y te dire quien eres,” (tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are),” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, mentioning that Obama’s deferred action executive order and while Obama calls them DREAMers, “Romney calls them illegals.”

One of the most high-profile Hispanics in the administration, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, told the gathering of Latino leaders the administration helped restore the auto industry, created half a million manufacturing jobs and increased Pell Grants.  “There are real accomplishments here,” said Secretary Solis.

But acknowledging the tough economy and tight race between Romney and Obama, the Labor Secretary added there were “real challenges.” Solis said, however, “This is a ‘si se puede’ moment.”

If it feels like both conventions have been really stressing Latino speakers and emphasizing the Hispanic vote, it is for a reason.

Earlier this morning the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) held a conference which put things in perspective.

“We estimate that over 12 million Hispanics will vote in these elections,” says NALEO chairman Arturo Vargas. That is a 26 percent increase since 2008,” Vargas adds.

Monica Lozano from impreMedia says both parties have used to the most targeted and sophisticated outreach efforts in the parties’ histories to reach Latinos. While she says advertising money still lags for Latinos, there is no doubt both parties have been targeting the nation’s Hispanics.

In states like North Carolina, where the convention is being held, Mitt Romney is leading Barack Obama by 1 percent in the polls, and Latinos are now almost 3 percent of the electorate, according to Latino Decisions. And in states like Virginia, North Carolina and Colorado, whether Latinos vote for Obama or increase their support for Romney could shift the election in these battleground states.

Janet Murguia, from the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), told those assembled that Hispanics can have a real say on policy decisions – as long as they vote. “Vote for whomever you think is the best candidate – but just vote.”

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