Latinos in Colorado, who now make up about 20 percent of the population, are looking forward to hearing what the candidates have to say in the first presidential debate. (photo/Sandra Lilley)

In Colorado, Latinos anxious to hear what candidates have to say

Denver, CO – This calm, clean city surrounded by mountains has a buzz in the air, as banners announcing the presidential debate today are seen in different parts of the city. On television this morning, it felt like every ad was from one party or another.  Latinos in Colorado are an increasingly strong presence in the state, and many of the city’s residents said they were looking forward to tonight’s event.

“I’m hearing a lot of negative things from sources outside – from ads, for example, but I’d like to hear from the horse’s mouth, what they choose to offer me,” says Willessa Stanton, who is part Puerto Rican and has lived in Denver all her life.  “I really want to hear what both of them have to say now; I honestly believe this is the time frame for explaining issues, and I want to see if they are genuine, and honest,” she adds.

A Mexican-American taxi driver, who preferred not to give his name, says he is leaning toward Obama because “Romney is too racist when it comes to immigration. I don’t think he likes Latinos,” he adds.

Diego Hernandez, who works as a nurse in one of the area hospitals, talked about the issues important to him. “I’m in the health care field, and I think health care is a big issue,” he says.  “A lot of the patients I see are self-pay, and I hope all patients can get some sort of coverage,” he adds.  Hernandez says he will be watching the debate.  “I haven’t made up my mind yet about which candidate I will  vote for,” he adds.

Latinos are about 21 percent of Colorado’s population, and its population grew significantly in the last ten years.  In the metro area some regions are almost 40 percent Hispanic.

Latino Republicans are confident Governor Romney can deliver a message that will appeal to Latinos. Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio held a rally here this morning, telling Colorado Latinos and other residents that this state “is a pretty important state in this election – so we’re counting on you.”

Former U.S. Treasurer Rosario Marin, a Romney supporter, is here in Denver for the debate.  “I don’t know how to put it nicely,” she says.  “When you have more people on food stamps, when the  unemployment rate for Latinos has been so high,  it’s a very poor record,” she says.  Marin says the most important thing Governor Romney can do is to highlight his successes in business, the Olympics, and as Massachusetts governor.

But Democrats are confident President Obama will continue his wide support among Latinos.  Recently, Colorado Democratic party chairman Rick Palacio said Romney had written off students, wounded veterans, seniors, combat troops and middle class families with his ’47 percent’ comment.

“Regardless of what he says in public, it’s clear where Mitt Romney’s priorities are, and it’s not with Coloradans,” said Palacio.

Amid tight security, throngs of press and those students lucky enough to get tickets will start assembling in a few hours, hoping to get a chance to see the presidential rivals go face to face.

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