Charlotte, N.C. – The soggy weather is not dampening the bustling crowds of delegates, politicians, journalists and party faithful who have been assembling in this city for the Democratic National Convention, which officially starts today. The next three nights will be a chance for Democrats to speak to a nationwide audience and make the case for President Obama‘s re-election. As Latinos take center stage tonight — San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro will be the first Hispanic to give the keynote address at the Democratic convention — Latino Democrats say the stakes are high.
Over 800 Latino delegates ready to rally for Obama as Democratic convention begins today
“I truly believe if Latinos don’t turn out and vote for Obama, Republicans will win,” says Gilberto Hinojosa, Chair of the Texas Democratic Party and one of the delegates from his state. ”I believe this is the case in states such as Colorado, Virginia, Florida and Nevada,” he adds. Hinojosa hopes Latino leaders like Julian Castro help energize more Hispanics to vote — and to vote Democratic.
“Ultimately, it will be a game changer when Texas turns blue, and that will depend on people like Julian Castro to be elected to statewide office,” says Hinojosa.
Delegates such as New Jersey state senator Nellie Pou say they are energized by the record number of Latino delegates at the convention; at over 800, it’s the highest number ever. “I think the Latino vote will be the impact vote this year,” says Pou.
While polls show Latino voters prefer Obama over Romney by an almost two to one margin in the latest polls, many general election polls place Obama and Romney in a pretty tight race. Democrats like Pou, however, think it’s just a question of getting their message out.
“I believe as soon as you explain what Obama has done for Latinos, like the Affordable Care Act, there is no comparison,” says Pou. “I think a lot of what President Obama has done was not communicated early on,” she adds.
The next three days will have its share of star-studded events, with Eva Longoria and America Ferrara, for example, as well as the primetime speeches. The Obama campaign is also using social media to connect the Hispanic legislators and delegates from across the country assembled here to a larger audience.
“While we have the first Hispanic keynote at the convention tonight, the more interesting story is the long tail of Hispanic representation,” says Giovanni Rodriguez, part of a team helping connect different delegates to the public through meetings and social media . “It doesn’t just have to be the heavy hitters; there are so many issues to discuss,” Rodriguez explains.
Though Twitter and Facebook have become the fastest and most effective ways for many groups here to spread their message, some Latinos are coming to Charlotte the old-fashioned way, via caravans, to take part in rallies or events. The Undocubus activists arrived with their message of “no papers, no fear,” and Dreamers are also participating at the convention to make the case for legislation to address the issue.
As the convention unfolds, one Latino in the spotlight is Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is chairing the convention. Last week at the Republican National Convention, Villaraigosa made headlines when said Republicans “can’t just trot out a brown face” as they court the Hispanic vote. Texas Democratic Chair Hinojosa, however, says he has no problem with Villaraigosa’s statement.
“I don’t think Villaraigosa’s comments were off base,” says Hinojosa. “In Texas, the Republicans opposed the Dream Act, opposed deferred deportation, are in favor of SB1070, opposed the Medicaid expansion for health care and support cuts in education; how can you be a Republican when the party is so hostile to Hispanic issues?”
In Tampa last week, however, Latino Republicans such as Senator Marco Rubio and New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez repeatedly challenged Obama’s economic record, and pointed to high Latino unemployment, as well as the lack of immigration reform, as failed promises Obama did not deliver. And an impremedia/Latino Decisions tracking poll found that after the Republican convention, Romney did get a bump – Romney support is now 30 percent among Latinos polled, up from 26 percent the week before. For the next three days, it will be the Democrats’ turn to answer back to Republicans, setting the stage for the last frenetic and high-stakes campaign ahead of November’s vote.