Is the Latino electorate finally beginning to make its mark?

  • David Fitzsimmons, caglecartoons.com
  • Getting out the Latino vote

 

When Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., announced his retirement in 2011, pundits predicted the GOP would easily hold the seat this November. After all, Arizonans last chose a Democrat for Senate in 1988, when as The Wall Street Journal reminisced, "gasoline cost less than 90 cents a gallon … and stirrup pants were in."

Yet Democrat Richard Carmona -- a former Surgeon General and Spanish-speaker of Puerto Rican descent -- is running neck-and-neck with Tea Party Republican Jeff Flake, even though it's Carmona's first high-profile race and Flake is a six-term congressman.

If the Democrats succeed in this improbable coup, and another -- making Arizona a tossup state in the presidential race -- credit will likely be due in large part to a mobilized Latino electorate, with whom Carmona's roots resonate, says Joseph Garcia, head of Arizona State University's Latino Public Policy Center.

The potential for Latinos to alter the nation's political landscape in coming years is broadly recognized, and their impact could be especially significant in Western states with sizeable Latino populations and competitive partisan balances. So far, chronically low turnout rates have made Latino voters a sleeping giant, but their importance is increasingly evident. In 2008, buoyed by excitement over Barack Obama's presidential campaign, Latino turnout helped Democrats take one Arizona congressional seat from Republicans, along with one in Nevada, two in New Mexico, one in Colorado and one in Idaho. In 2010, Latino turnout sagged and Democrats lost nearly all of those seats. Only 38 percent of Arizona's eligible Latinos voted, compared to 52 percent for white voters and 41 percent for blacks, according to Census Bureau surveys.

Arizonans Francisco Heredia and his older brother, Luis, are among the leaders of a West-wide effort to boost these statistics by registering more Latinos -- and making sure they actually cast ballots. "We're out there every day," says Francisco, who runs the Arizona branch of Mi Familia Vota, a nonpartisan group. Dozens of Mi Familia organizers knock on doors, stand outside grocery stores, roam college campuses -- whatever it takes to "grow our political power as a community."

In early October, just before Arizona's voter registration deadline, the group was approaching its goal of registering 7,500 new Latino voters, and had helped 17,000 sign up for mail-in voting -- one method for improving the odds that a voter will follow through. More than 10 other groups are doing similar outreach in Arizona to improve turnout rates.

"This year we'll definitely see the largest number of Latinos voting in the history of Arizona," says Francisco. His brother, the executive director of Arizona's Democratic Party, echoes that prediction. Luis Heredia's team is using "very sophisticated" combinations of polling, market data (who buys what), and analyses of voter addresses and surnames to identify potential Latino voters to organize and target with political messages. He estimates that 389,000 Arizona Latinos were registered in 2008. Now, it's around 589,000 -- a 51 percent increase.

While that's still a small fraction of Arizona's 3.1 million registered voters, the increase seems bound to turn Arizona more blue -- day by day, year by year. The state's Latinos now favor Democratic candidates over Republicans by a 3-1 margin, according to a poll by Seattle-based think tank Latino Decisions, a preference that has increased as Republicans take hard-line stands against undocumented immigrants.

Combining all of those statistics with the most fundamental of all -- the Latino population is growing faster than other ethnic groups, and young Latinos who will reach voting age over the next decade or so are almost all citizens -- and it's obvious, says Garcia: "There's a tsunami coming."

Fred Solop, a Northern Arizona University political science professor, adds: "Whoever can figure out the formula (to get Latino votes) will dominate politics."

High Country News Classifieds
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    HawkWatch International seeks an experienced fundraiser to join our awesome team! This position will provide support in all aspects of the department. We are looking...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING IN TAOS, NEW MEXICO www.westernlaw.org/about-us/clinic-interns-careers The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) is a nonprofit public interest environmental law firm with a...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    will develop and execute Wild Utah Projects fundraising plan. Call, email or check full description of job online for more details:
  • HAND CRAFTED LOG HOME IN TETON VALLEY
    on ten acres. Full view of the Grand Teton. 35 miles to Yellowstone and 20 minutes to Grand Targhee Ski Area.
  • ACREAGE WITH HOME, SHOP, BARN FOR SALE!
    Must see for sng/extd fam or corp retreat in pines! $1,030,000
  • WESTERN REGIONAL MANAGER
    The American Forest Foundation seeks a smart and highly motivated candidate to join our Western conservation team. The Regional Manager supports the Regional Director to...
  • TRANSPORTATION PLANNER
    Exciting opportunity to lead the charge on meeting the future transportation demands of our community! This position will develop, coordinate, and implement the Integrated Transportation...
  • ENVIRONMENTAL WRITING INSTITUTE (EWI)
    with Robert Michael Pyle September 26-30, 2018, in Missoula MT.
  • REPORTING FELLOW - BOISE, ID
    Boise State Public Radio is hiring a Reporting Fellow as part of a new nationwide collaborative, Guns & America. Based in the state capitol, Boise...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Middle Colorado Watershed Council. Rifle, CO.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF RIVERSEDGE WEST (FORMERLY TAMARISK COALITION)
    RiversEdge West is seeking an entrepreneurial leader with solid nonprofit management skills to lead our high functioning team and help us make an impact on...
  • HIRING BEARS EARS EDUCATION CENTER DIRECTOR
    Conservation nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa in Bluff, Utah is hiring an Education Center Director to oversee the operation of the Bears Ears Education Center....
  • DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR WITH WRA
    Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is seeking a talented, organized person with great people skills, who is passionate about protection of the natural environment to work...
  • DIRECTOR OF REGIONAL COMMUNICATIONS STRATEGY
    The Wilderness Society is recruiting for an experienced Communicator for our Northwest Region. This position is located in Seattle, WA. For more information please visit...
  • SALMON RIVER IDAHO WILDERNESS RETREAT HOME
    Here is an opportunity to have a piece of self-sufficient paradise on Idaho's Main Salmon River adjacent to the largest Forest Service wilderness area in...
  • RAMMED EARTH SOLAR COTTAGE
    in 5-home conservation community & botanical sanctuary on 20 acres.
  • MEMBERSHIP AND ENGAGEMENT COORDINATOR
    The Montana Wildlife Federation is looking for an enthusiastic and innovative Membership and Engagement Coordinator to help grow and maintain our grassroots voice for wildife,...
  • SR ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNER
    The City of Fort Collins is excited to announce a Sr Environmental Planner position within the Natural Areas Department. This position will be housed within...
  • HISTORICAL VACATION CABIN
    on beautiful Snow Angel Ranch located within San Juan National Forest near Pagosa Springs, CO. Lakes, fly-fishing, swimming, hiking, mountain biking, horse trails, horse accommodations...
  • FIVE-ACRE VIEW LOT WITH WELL
    5 acres, well. Abuts Carson NF; hike fish ski; deer turkey elk.