Charlotte, N.C. – As scores of Latino Democrats congregate in Charlotte and strategize on ways to ensure Barack Obama‘s re-election, one group whose numbers they hope to increase – is young Hispanics. Every month, 50,000 Latinos turn 18. Voto Latino held a forum here in Charlotte to discuss the Latino vote. According to their figures, approximately 50 percent of eligible Latino voters are under age 40 and about 33 percent are between 18 and 34.
In 2008, young adults were a substantial component to Obama’s campaign, and they voted in higher numbers than in previous elections. But here in Charlotte, a group of young Latino Democrats from the University of Texas concede that right now, it’s not like 4 years ago.
“I think there may be truth to the fact there is less enthusiasm from students, but I think it’s because the campaigns have not tapped into what students want,” says college student Pedro Villalobos. “If Obama wants students energized to knock on doors, and call people in swing states, or even surpass the 2008 vote, he has to talk about what students want,” he says. “I want to hear about immigration, and about student loans, what are the interest rates, and am I going to be able to get any,” he adds.
Villalobos says Obama did well in passing the DHS policy change for Dreamers, and this has energized Latino students. Huey Rey Fischer, another student, agrees. “For me, it’s a question of progress versus regression,” he says. “Whether it comes to college affordability, unemployment or fighting for the Dreamers, students are aware of what’s going on, and I think they are going to come out.”
“They said the word youth a lot at the [Republican National] convention. And it’s really nice symbolism to say the word, but I think it’s very much like ‘The West Wing’: What are the next five words after that? And the next five words are policies that are detrimental to our generation,” said Salinas to Politico.
Benita Veliz, a “Dreamer” who became the first undocumented immigrant to address one of the parties’ political conventions, spoke today to Telemundo’s Rogelio Guerra, and said that the Democratic party had given undocumented immigrants a “voice,” and urged Hispanics to use it. Latino Democrats hope messages like Veliz reach young Latinos, especially in states like Nevada, Texas and California.
Latino Democrats say they need greater Hispanic involvement in what will be a tougher campaign.
“I saw a lot of enthusiasm in 2008, I think things were very critical back then,” says Hartford, Connecticut Mayor and Democratic delegate Pedro Segarra. “I do sense a little pessimism out in the streets, I think communities are hurting,” he says, adding that “what’s important about these conventions is to galvanize and electrify the delegates who are here so we can return to our communities, clarify the record and clear misinformation.”
Segarra, who is an openly gay Puerto Rican, says he wants to defend a party which supports legislators like him to “come to the table” and work for the common good. “The fact I’m an openly gay Mayor hasn’t prevented me from doing my work; I’ve been able to reduce our homicides by 43 percent during a very critical time,” he says. Segarra also explains that in cities like his, where 45 percent of the population is under 25, the Romney-Ryan budget reductions would mean less money on transportation, education and services he says are needed to advance his city’s residents.
Today in Charlotte, though, the “GOP in the DNC” held a press conference, and Florida congressman Mario Diaz-Balart took issue with the Democratic messages and rhetoric in the convention’s speeches, saying that “when the lights go out (after the convention), the American people will still be home and unemployed.”
Balart said Obama had almost 4 years to get the economy back on track, and strongly criticized the President for passing the deferred action after Senator Marco Rubio’s alternative Dream Act proposal, and months before the election. “Nosotros no somos bobos,” (we are not dumb), said Diaz-Balart. Today over 100 Florida Hispanic small business owners signed a letter released by the Romney campaign saying they are not better off under President Obama.
Democrats in Charlotte say they are feeling confident, and are especially happy with former President’s Bill Clinton full-throated, vigorous endorsement of Barack Obama.
“President Clinton rocked it last night,” says New Jersey Senator Bob Menéndez, as he was hurriedly walking from one place to the next on this last day of the convention. The Cuban-American senator says Clinton “eviscerated” the Republican attacks on Obama and his record.
Tonight, before Vice President Biden and President Barack Obama give their much-anticipated closing convention speeches, various Latinos will take to the stage. Apart from College Democrats president Alejandra Salinas, Obama campaign co-chair and actress Eva Longoria will speak, and Marc Anthony will sing the National Anthem.
Jose La Luz, Deputy Director for Hispanic Outreach for the Florida Democratic Party, says he hopes these high-profile Democrats are able to energize young Latinos to get involved in the Obama campaign and increase their participation in November.
“If Latinos, especially young Latinos vote, “se acabó lo que se daba,” (it’s a done deal) says La Luz, hoping young Latino adults choose between “two diametrically opposed visions”on how to move the country forward. “We were in total free fall when President Obama took office,” says La Luz. “Are we better off? Absolutely.” La Luz is hoping he can enlist young Latinos to spread that message – and to vote.