Those voters represent a crucial opening for the president in a state where, on the face of it, Obama should not hope to win again. North Carolina, which will host the Democratic National Conventional next month, was his slimmest win four years ago, the state has the fourth-highest unemployment rate in the nation, and Democrats have struggled here in recent years.
Yet recent polls show a tight race, and the Obama campaign believes it has a shot, particularly if it can increase turnout among Hispanics.
But finding Hispanics who are eligible to vote won’t be easy. Getting them to register and then, months later, cast a ballot for Obama will be harder. Only a fraction of North Carolina’s booming Hispanic population is eligible to vote. An even smaller number actually does.
“Are you a citizen?” Mattie Adams, an Obama volunteer with clipboard in hand, asked a young man getting into his car at Greenview Meadows. He looked at her quizzically and drove off.
Adams approached another man, Jose Martinez, a U.S. citizen who was born in Mexico. “I kind of do want to vote,” Martinez said. That was all Adams needed to hear: She helped him fill out a voter-registration form.
Finding voters in Gaston County is step one of the Obama campaign’s strategy to win North Carolina. Step two is persuading them to vote for Obama. Their names, addresses, phone numbers and more are entered into a campaign database so that campaign workers can reach out by phone, mail and e-mail again and again between now and November.
Some of the outreach is simpler, like what Edwin Gil, a Charlotte-based painter from Colombia does week after week: visit fellow Latinos for coffee in their homes to talk about getting involved. Sometimes it’s just Gil and his host; sometimes it’s a roomful of 20 people.
“The Latino culture, it’s very hard to make them vote because maybe the corruption, maybe they don’t have the education, maybe you never told them before they have something where they can make a difference,” Gil said, alluding to perceptions Latinos bring to the United States from their native countries.
Both Obama and his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, are running Spanish-language ads.
The Romney campaign has recently begun building its North Carolina field operation, which now boasts 20 offices and a corps of volunteers that campaign officials say includes large numbers who voted for Obama four years ago. Romney also is replicating Obama’s model of reaching Latino voters with weekly house parties, but the Republican’s effort focuses largely on business owners, not on reaching the new voters the Obama campaign believes could tip the balance in November.