Candidates finished up their final day of campaigning before Tuesday’s Election Day with Latinos helping to decide two top gubernatorial races and weighing in on city council elections.
Like other voters, Latinos head into the polls battered by the federal government shutdown – about 8 percent of federal workers are Latinos - frustrated by the dysfunctional rollout of Obama care and still plodding through a slow recovery.
But Latinos also are seen as one of the groups that can most benefit from the new health care law. For many, how the latest wave of Latino immigrants are treated is a yardstick for their candidate preference.
In Virginia, which President Barack Obama won in the 2012 elections, there was some hope that frustration with scandal and the split within the GOP would give more clout to Latino voters, who number more than 630,000 in Virginia; some 210,000 are registered to vote.
Immigration has been an issue in the campaign and both Republican Ken Cuccinelli, the state’s attorney general, and Democrat Terry McAuliffe, former Democratic Party chairman, have worked to woo Latino voters in what could be a tight race.
McAuliffe has some backing from Latinos because of his support for allowing younger immigrants in the U.S. illegally, known as DREAMers, to become legal permanent residents and eventually citizens.
Mailers with side-by-side information on what the candidates have said and have posted on their campaign web sites on immigration issues started to arrive over the weekend at Latino voters’ homes. The mailers also tell voters the address of their voting location.
The election “can be a picture of what is coming in 2014,” said Matthew McClellan, executive director of the National Council of La Raza Action Fund. “We have the midterms then and as an organization, if this issue is not resolved by the end of this Congress then we will be definitely telling our constituency to take a look at who had action and who has not had action.”
A Quinnipiac University poll released Monday showed McCauliffe up six percentage points over Cuccinelli and in New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie up 61-33 over his Democratic challenger among likely voters. The Quinnipiac poll did not have a large enough sample of Latinos to accurately measure support in either race.
New Jersey’s Republican governor is expected to win re-election over Democrat Barbara Buono and set himself onto a path to the race for president in 2016.
Christie’s large lead is believed to include heavy Latino support for a Republican candidate. Michael Duhaime, a top Christie adviser told the Daily Beast that Christie’s link to the community has been built over time.
“I think as a party what we have done wrong is that we only only talk to Hispanics in an election year, instead of doing it all the time. For us, there is dialogue and a trust factor,” Duhaime told the Daily Beast in a Sunday posting.
This comes despite the presence of Milly Silva on the ticket with Christie. Silva, who is Puerto Rican and bidding for the lieutenant governor slot, is the first Latina to run for executive office in the state.
New Jersey’s population of about 8.9 million is 18.5 percent Hispanic or Latino, 58.2 percent non-Hispanic white, 14.7 percent black and 9 percent Asian.
Recently, Christie endorsed what he called tuition equality, a reference to whether people in the country illegally should be allowed to pay in-state tuition in the state where they live.
America’s Voice, a pro-immigration group, called him a pro-immigration candidate, even though Christie previously opposed in-state tuition for DREAMers. Buono has warned Christie has done the opposite of what he has said in the past.
If Christie’s showing among Latinos holds up in post-election polling, the Democratic party should heed it as a warning that they cannot take the Latino vote for granted, said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association for Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.
Other races getting some attention are those for the New York’s City Council.
The city has the largest Latino population of any U.S. city at 2.4 million. Eight of its 12 incumbent Latino council members are up for re-election. Four new Latinos are expected to gain seats as well.
Among the newcomers is Carlos Menchaca who could win a Brooklyn-based seat and become the first Mexican-American to serve on New York’s city council. He also is openly gay.
“There’s always been this whole notion that it was taboo for a candidate to be gay in the Latino community but more and more we are seeing these candidates not only running, but getting elected,” Vargas said.
NALEO also has been doing work on the ground get out the vote work in New York, where Latinos are 22 percent of registered voters.