Voters in Nevada. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

Obama, Romney visit Colorado and Nevada – crucial Latino battleground states

Alvina Vázquez, the communications director for Strong Colorado, a progressive advocacy group, says there is little doubt among Colorado Latino voters that they are being heavily courted – and that’s a good thing.

“Here in Colorado, both parties are well aware of the importance of the Latino vote, and each party has been talking to Hispanics about their core issues,” says Vázquez.  “It makes Latinos feel like their voice counts, and it’s really exciting to see that broad outreach,”  Vázquez says.

Latino voters in the battleground states of Colorado and Nevada are getting a lot of love from the political candidates for a reason – Latinos are 14 percent of the eligible voters in Colorado, according to Pew Hispanic, and 15 percent of eligible voters in Nevada. In a tight presidential election, these numbers can determine the election’s outcome, as was the case in 2008 and in 2010.  Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are visiting these battleground states today, and Latinos in these states have no shortage of English-language as well as Spanish-language ads, rallies, phone calls and visits.  In Colorado, in fact, early voting started Monday, and Latino groups have been urging residents to vote early.  In Nevada, early voting started Saturday, and already 13 percent of Nevada’s registered voters have cast their ballots.

For both parties, but especially for the Democrats in these two states, Latino voter turnout in this tight election is crucial. According to a recent Latino Decisions post by University of Nevada political scientist David Damore, “President Obama is now preferred by nearly four of five registered Latino voters in Nevada; a 9 percent increase since June,” reported Damore.  University of Denver political scientist Robert Preuhs says in a recent Latino Decisions post that 69 percent of Hispanics polled in Colorado say they were “very enthusiastic” about voting.  Here in Colorado,  almost three-quarters of Latinos polled say they are either in favor or leaning toward Obama.

According to a recent poll, President Obama’s stance on immigration and his Deferred Action policy have energized many Latinos in Colorado to support him in the elections.  Today, a group of Latino and Asian immigrants rights and civil rights activists in Colorado held a conference call. While the group did not endorse a specific candidate, they said candidates’ views on immigration will be a key determinant among many Latino and Asian Colorado voters.  “We have seen firsthand the issues immigrant families are talking about – rolling back Arizona-type show-me-your-papers laws; immigrant families want to feel safe and want to contribute,” says Victor Galvan, civic engagement coordinator for the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition.  In 2010, Nevada Latinos supported Democratic Senator Harry Reid in large numbers, a vote in large part due to Republican challenger Sharron Angle’s anti-immigration stance, and that Democratic support has helped Democrats this year.

Despite high Latino support for Obama in Colorado and Nevada, Republicans have been actively campaigning for Hispanic votes in these states.  New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez was in Colorado yesterday at a rally for Governor Romney.  In Nevada, Latino Republicans like Alex Garza,  a young Mexican-American Republican and vice president of “Hispanics in Politics,” has stated he supports Governor Romney’s economic message and “business experience.”

Jesús Altamirano, a Colorado regional field director for the National Council of La Raza, has been visiting homes as well as supermarkets, talking to young Latinos who have just turned 18 or middle-aged Hispanics who recently became citizens to not only register them to vote, but to make sure they either vote early or go to the polls on November 6th. “In a couple of counties we have registered over 3,600 voters since March,” says Altamirano.

While Latino civil rights groups stress the importance of Latino voter participation in these Western battleground states, both parties are aware their participation can make the difference in a tight race.

Strong Colorado’s Alvina Vázquez says that works for her.  “The big picture is, we have to get Latinos engaged.  They are part of the national conversation, and they should be.”

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