Latinos Hold Key to Obama Winning the West—And the Election

by Randy Shaw on August 27, 2008

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson told a meeting in Denver on August 26 that “Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado hold the key to the election, and all will go to Barack Obama.” Richardson was joined by SEIU Executive Vice-President Eliseo Medina in releasing a new study showing that Latino support for Democrats is growing and intensifying in the wake of Bush Administration attacks on immigrants. In the above three states plus Arizona, Latinos are currently backing Obama by 64-25%, and Richardson predicted that Latinos would hand Obama New Mexico by giving him at least 70% of the vote. Here’s more on the constituency whose rising voting numbers is creating what Richardson and others are describing as a “New West.”

Eliseo Medina told the assembled press corp at the Denver Convention Center yesterday that in his 42 years of organizing he had “never seen such a high level of voter interest” among Latinos as for this November’s election. Medina cited a “new culture of participation” in the Latino community, and felt that Latinos viscerally felt the connection between voting and the need for immigration reform, health care and decent jobs.

Richardson noted that Republicans are seen as “intolerant” on immigration, and felt that once Obama became better known that at least 70% of the Latino vote in the region would be his. Latinos comprise 23% of Nevada’s eligible voters, 42% of New Mexico’s. 32% of Arizona’s, and 20% of Colorado’s.

Bush won all eight inner mountain west states in 2004. Rising Latino voting brought five Democratic governors to the region in 2006, and this trend is expected to continue.

The Campaign Plan

Medina noted the plan has three parts.

First, partisan outreach involving 1400 SEIU members working full-time going door to door in Latino communities in key Mountain West states along with Texas, California and Florida. SEIU has allocated $1.5 million, while Obama will spend $20 million for Latino voter outreach nationwide.

Second, there will be a nonpartisan campaign orchestrated by the “We are America” alliance – a coalition of immigrant rights, labor, media and nonprofit groups that plans to register 500,000 new Latino voters.

Ben Monterroso, Executive Director of Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, told me that the coalition will have seven offices with 25 paid staff in Colorado alone, and will be targeting 78,000 low turnout Latino voters in this pivotal state.

The third part of the plan is to ensure, as Medina put it, that Latino voters get the message that “now is the time to vote” when they go to their job during the week, to church on Sunday, and when they watch television at home, through public service announcements.

Those leaving the press event were quite encouraged by the report, and impressed by the level of strategic detail that Medina, Monterroso and their allies have implemented for the fall campaign.

Social Issues Come Second

Andrew Meyer, who conducted the survey of voter attitudes for SEIU and other groups, addressed the issue that social issues can sway Latinos to vote Republican. He noted that one focus group participant stated, “I’ll support gay marriage if it means it would fill my tank with gas.”

For most Latinos, and most other Americans, it’s all about jobs. Richardson, Medina and others felt that pocketbook concerns would boost Obama in November.

When asked whether Joe Biden would help Obama in the region, Richardson replied “well, he could have gotten more help if he had gone in a different direction”—a joking reference to his own being passed over for the job. Richardson did say that Obama needs to spend more time in the West, which will no doubt occur given its importance in his winning the White House.

Richardson proved a very ingratiating and down to earth guy—qualities that somehow did not bring him greater support for his failed 2008 presidential candidacy. He remains a popular choice for Secretary of State or Defense under a President Obama.

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