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Ana Navarro, Maria Cardona, Arturo Vargas Discuss Latino Vote 2012 at NALEO Briefing

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The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) held a briefing on the impact of the Latino vote in 2012 and beyond this morning, and we attended the event so that we could live-tweet.  Arturo Vargas, the executive director of NALEO Educational Fund, was there to moderate Democratic strategist Maria Cardona and Republican strategist Ana Navarro, during an interesting panel filled with campaign insights.

You can watch video of the event here.

The main theme of the panel focused on the growing Latino vote demographic, how important it is to candidates this year, and how it will continue to be important in future elections.  “More than 12.2 million Latino voters are expected to head to the polls on November 6,” NALEO wrote in their event press release, “an increase of 26 percent from 2008.”

That’s after a 43% increase in the Latino vote between 2000 and 2010, according to a NALEO PowerPoint that kicked off the event.  Almost one in four youth under the age of 18 in the US is Latino.  Between 2000 and 2010, Latino population growth counteracted population declines in Illinois, New Jersey, and New York.  Nearly every state that gained Congressional seats in the 2012 election did so on the strength of their Latino populations.

Latinos are quickly building up a reputation for being kingmakers in national elections.  In 2008, a record-breaking 9.7 million Latinos turned out to vote – a 28% increase over 2004.  They helped Obama flip states like Colorado, Florida, and New Mexico.  In 2010, they helped preserve some of these same states in the midterm elections, creating a “Western firewall” for Democrats that helped protect seats for Sens. Harry Reid (D-NV) and Michael Bennett (D-CO).  This year, the 12.2 million Latinos projected to vote will account for about 8.7% of all voters.  In key battleground states like Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Florida, and Nevada, the number of Latinos registered to vote is greater than Obama’s respective margins of victory in 2008.

This year, “Obama is building a southwestern firewall,” Maria Cardona noted, “and that is made possible by the strength of the Latino vote.”

The bulk of the panel was spent talking about what the growing importance of the Latino vote means for politicians and politics.  Both Cardona and Ana Navarro spoke of the notable efforts that President Obama and Mitt Romney have made to court the Latino vote this year—noticing, for example, that there were only two conferences this year that both candidates spoke at, NALEO’s June get-together and the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention a month later.

Cardona applauded President Obama’s recent Spanish-language ad, in which he speaks Spanish for 30 seconds and talks about how much DREAMers inspire him.  Cardona told a story about how her daughter reacted when she saw the President speaking Spanish on TV and how she wanted to watch the ad over and over.  Still, Cardona emphasized, Obama is not beating Romney by some 50-odd-percentage-points among Latino voters simply because he spoke Spanish in an ad—he’s running away with the Latino vote because “he supports immigration policies that we support.”

“If we ever want immigration reform” then, Ana Navarro quipped at one point, “some of us [Latino voters] are going to have to bite the bullet and move to Ohio.” Navarro further emphasized that candidates’ Hispanic outreach efforts, this year and in the future, must be “long term, continuous, and strenuous.”  She noted that Obama’s move to offer deferred action to DREAMers was a “good measure,” even if many Hispanics saw through it and believed it to be a political move.  And she encouraged candidates to “brush up on their Rosetta Stone,” because Latino voters “do appreciate the effort.”

Ultimately, both commentators noted, the Latino vote is growing as a demographic and immigration reform is a key priority for them.  And Republicans as a party must start moderating their hardline anti-immigrant positions if they ever want to win some of these Latino voters.  Ana Navarro gave an example of how the Latino vote could swing a campaign by mentioning the Senate matchup in Arizona between Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and former Surgeon General Richard Carmona.

“If Republicans lose Jeff Flake’s Senate seat in Arizona,” Navarro said, “I would say to [Arizona Governor] Jan Brewer and Sheriff Joe Arpaio that ‘you built that.’”

For more about how the Latino vote will affect elections this fall, check out www.latinovotemap.com