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In Colorado and Nevada, Latino Vote Will Be Decisive

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The last several days have seen a slate of just-released polling data on the Latino vote in key swing states and how they favor Obama over Romney in battlegrounds like Florida, Nevada, Arizona, and Colorado.  Today we wanted to lift up what those polling numbers are translating to on the ground.

As an NPR piece today reports, Colorado is a must-win state this year, and within Colorado, both Democrats and Republicans are focused on turning out Latino voters:

Colorado is one of several swing states where campaign efforts will be concentrated in these past few weeks before the election. Of those efforts, actually getting people to the polls will be one of the most important.

In Colorado, both the Romney and Obama campaigns have an eye on Latino voters in particular. The state has seen a tremendous amount of growth in the Latino population. According to census data, that particular demographic grew by 41 percent between 2000 and 2010. Latinos make up about 21 percent of Colorado’s overall population.

Polling in Colorado show that Latinos there support Obama over Romney by a 2-to-1 margin, and that 86% of Colorado Latino voters rank immigration as an important issue when they are deciding who to vote for.  “We’re talking about the DREAM Act,” says a Latina Democrat in Colorado interviewed by NPR.  “We’re talking about the immigration issue.  These are issues that really impact the Hispanic community.”

At yesterday’s panel discussion on the Latino vote in Colorado, Olivia Mendoza of the Colorado Latino Forum noted that issues like education and immigration can’t be separated for Latino voters, because of legislation like the DREAM Act and the high cost of tuition for all students.  NPR also found support for this:

Salazar and Barela-Smith — both of whom work in higher education — think that it’s more than just traditional issues that keep Latinos in the Democratic camp. Salazar points out that the Romney campaign has raised the idea of cutting back on Pell Grants for higher education. That, she says, disproportionately affects Latinos — either preventing them from pursuing education or forcing them to take out more loans.

“Since Obama has been in office, the Pell Grant went up from $4,300 to $5,550,” she explains. “That’s a lot of money. That pays a full tuition, books and fees at Front Range [Community College] for a student to go. Without that money, they’re not going to be able to go to college, and then they will take loans.”

Meanwhile, in Nevada (where Obama is leading Romney among Latino voters 78 to 17%), Latinos are poised to make a big difference in at least two very close Congressional races—and the candidates there know it.  The Las Vegas Sun today covers how campaigns there are fine-tuning their pitches to appeal to these voters.

In Nevada’s 3rd District, incumbent Republican Rep. Joe Heck is up against Democratic State Assemblyman John Oceguera.  Oceguera, like a majority of all eligible US voters, supports both the DREAM Act and President Obama’s deferred action program.  Heck has outlined his own four-point plan for immigration reform, one that wants to streamline the immigration process for new immigrants—but does not address the question of what to do about the 11 million undocumented immigrants already here:

The plan starts with border security, without details on how, exactly, to improve the current measures. Next, Heck said he would remove the work incentive by instituting a “comprehensive, reliable, mandatory e-verify system,” referring to the federal database employers can use to check the residency status of job applicants. Third, Heck suggests a modernized guest worker program. Lastly, the congressman said the system for obtaining visas and citizenship should be streamlined so that wait times would be reduced.

In Nevada’s newly created 4th district, the race between Democratic state Sen. Steven Horsford and Republican Danny Tarkanian offers a stark contrast in immigration positions.  Horsford supports immigration, the DREAM Act, and President Obama’s deferred action program.  Tarkanian, on the other hand, opposes deferred action, sidesteps questions about reform by referring to border security, and supported Arizona’s SB 1070 anti-immigrant law.  While Tarkanian has softened his immigration position slightly this year compared to earlier years, Horsford has sought to draw out Tarkanian’s extremism in a district where a quarter of the eligible voters are Hispanic.  As Horsford told the Las Vegas Sun:

My opponent has previously backed ‘self-deportation’ and has essentially supported making life so miserable for undocumented immigrants that they have no option but to leave our country.  That is neither a humane nor effective policy, and I believe we should secure our borders and pass fair immigration reform, not focus on making the day-to-day lives of undocumented immigrants unbearable.

It’s very evident that in these two battleground states, the Latino vote matters — a lot.