Nevada vote to gauge Latinos' influence
Arizona Republic
Jan. 18, 2008

Nevada vote to gauge Latinos' influence

Arizona Republic, The (Phoenix, AZ) - January 18, 2008
Author: Pat Kossan, The Arizona Republic
It seems the right year for Democrats to call Nevada's Saturday presidential caucus a showcase of Latino political muscle on a national scale. Anti-immigrant sentiment has galvanized many Latino voters. Add the national spotlight as an early-voting state, a record registration and Nevada Democrats' biggest get-out-the-vote campaign ever, and the outlook is promising.

If it happens in Nevada, perhaps, it can happen anywhere.

But political researchers and activists are wary. For years, experts have predicted that Latinos would turn out en masse nationwide and in certain states. But although the turnout of registered Latino voters has sometimes been strong, many others have refused to or could not register.

In the 2004 presidential elections, for example, 87 percent of registered Latinos voted in Nevada. The reality: Half of Latino residents were not citizens and could not vote. Of Latino citizens, just over half were registered to vote.

Complicating things in Nevada is its Iowa-style caucuses, which are unfriendly and confusing to new voters, experts say.

Fred Solop, a political researcher at Northern Arizona University, said the Latino vote is not yet organized enough to turn a national election. But Republicans and Democrats recognize Latinos as a future force and are battling for their loyalty.

"We're on the brink," Solop said. "They will be important over time."

Unlike African-Americans, Latinos do not vote in a monolithic bloc for one party. Although Southwestern Latinos tend to vote Democratic, many voted for George Bush in 2004 because he spoke Spanish, hailed from Texas and had a strong family-values platform, Solop said.

Still, organizers in Nevada are aiming to set the stage for a re-energized voting bloc. If Latino voters show up for Nevada caucuses, it bodes well for a big turnout for Arizona, Utah and California, where, unlike in a caucus, voters can sit at home or stand in a voting booth and choose their candidate privately.

In caucuses, registered party members must listen to short speeches in favor of candidates and make their preferences public and, perhaps, realign with a new candidate until a consensus is reached. Independents are not invited.

Outreach effort

Andres Ramirez is in charge of getting Democratic voters to Nevada's 520 caucus sites, the most in state history. He scoffs at the idea that caucuses prevent Nevada from being the best bellwether state for the Latino vote in the West.

"We have conducted the most significant and aggressive outreach effort in Nevada history to educate Hispanic voters about the Nevada caucuses," Ramirez said.

A record high number of newly registered Latino voters are calling the party's Spanish- language voter hotline and visiting its Spanish- language voter-education Web site, Ramirez said. The Culinary Workers Union, which is nearly half Latino, has been holding mock caucuses so its membership understands the process.

Antonio Gonzalez is excited that the Southwest and its Latino voters have been given an early voice when choosing this year's presidential candidates.

"We've been nowhere in this campaign," said Gonzalez, Los Angeles-based president of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project.

Gonzalez said the Culinary Workers Union will be the key to a large Latino turnout in Nevada.

"There's a disproportionate number of Latinos in these (culinary) unions, and you'll hear the Latino voice that way," Gonzalez said. "Nevada, one way or the other, will raise issues but not determine them one way or another."

The power of the Latino vote will be felt in unison with other Southwestern states, such as Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado. "Nevada is like a little teaser," Gonzalez said. "Those Yankees, they've never tasted chili before."

'Uncharted water'

Arizona State University's Rodolfo Espino is examining history and hedging his bets on just how much impact Latino voters will have on this presidential election.

"Every year, we hear about the groundswell of Latino voters and, on rare occasion, it does matter and surprises pundits," Espino said. "But, oftentimes, in campaigns it doesn't meet expectations."

This year could be different, especially in Nevada, he said.

"We're entering uncharted water," he said. A Southwestern state has never received the kind of national attention being given to Nevada.

"The more money campaigns put in to get out the vote, the more, not surprisingly, we see voter turnout increase," Espino said. "It's one of these laws like gravity."

Lydia Guzman has been organizing Latino voters in Arizona and across the Southwest for years. It's up to Latinos to organize, register and get out the vote in their communities because political parties often don't think it's worth spending money and time in neighborhoods where so many people are ineligible or unwilling to vote, Guzman said.

She also is frustrated by the number of Latinos who register just to be polite but don't turn out to vote.

"Because, as you well know, voter registration and voter participation are two separate monsters," Guzman said. "It's like leading a horse to water, but on Election Day, how do you get that horse to drink?"

Guzman said the Latino vote is trending toward impact. Nearly half of voting-age Latino citizens voted in the 2004 presidential races. Now, more Latinos are seeking citizenship.

"We have more at stake," Guzman said. "We have all those anti-immigrant measures. We have folks on the radio bashing the immigrant community. They're (Latinos are) tired of being beat up and battered."

For all its efforts, Nevada could end up representing the stubborn hurdles to increasing the Hispanic vote.

Democratic faithful in many states worry that people in Nevada struggling with English or new to voting could be reluctant to participate in small town-hall-style caucuses.

"It's an intimidating experience for anyone who hasn't gone through it," said Raul Yzaguirre, former chief executive of the National Council of La Raza.

"When our folks are asked to come to a PTA meeting, they get intimidated," added Yzaguirre, now a part-time ASU professor. "It's not just a Latino issue. For poor people, for handicapped people, for minorities who are not used to this process, it will be overwhelming."


2004 Latino vote

Like most voters, Latinos are more likely to vote during presidential years. Here are numbers from the 2004 general election.


Voting age: 301,000.

Eligible citizens: 151,000.

Registered: 83,000.

Votes cast: 72,000.

Registered turnout: 87%.


Voting age: 1.1 million.

Eligible citizens: 629,000.

Registered: 354,000.

Votes cast: 296,000.

Registered turnout: 84%.

U.S. Census Bureau
Edition: Final Chaser
Section: Front
Page: A1
Dateline: AZ