Where Minority Is Majority
Thursday, August 28, 2008
DENVER, Aug. 27 -- So why this city, anyway?
To find out why the Democratic National Committee chose Denver to host its convention, we leave the dizzying action downtown -- the hobnobbing celebs, delegates and pols, the bloggers and journos under the Big Tent and in the Pepsi Center, all that choreographed circus -- and drive just 10 minutes north.
Go up a hill, past new lofts and swank restaurants. Turn right, and pass the McDonald's billboard touting an Egg McMuffin in Spanish ("Los Preparamos" -- "we prepare them") and then the hunched old man ringing his bell and pushing a cart filled with Mexican ice cream for $1.50 a pop.
This is a neighborhood called Northside, home to La Casita, which churns out handmade tamales like Starbucks brews grande lattes. It's the heart of Denver's Latino community, which, at 35 percent of an estimated 560,000 residents, is by far the city's largest minority group.
In this city, the chances of electing the first black president heavily falls on the shoulders of Latinos, the country's fastest-growing electorate. And they know it, too.
Listen to Paul Sandoval, speaking about Barack Obama:
"A lot of people are still uncomfortable with him, including Hispanics. With us, it's what they call la corazón -- the heart -- and we want to feel like we know him. He's leading McCain 2 to 1 among Hispanics! Two to one! It should be 80 to 20!" says Sandoval, who's owned La Casita for 35 years.
At 64, he's a fixture on the political scene here. Served as state senator for eight years, then as a school board member for six. He was a strong backer of Hillary Rodham Clinton during the primaries and has doubts about Obama.
Amanda, Sandoval's youngest daughter, shakes her head and sighs. "Obama still has a lot of work to do," she says. "The thing about Hispanics is, once you get us shaking and grooving, once you get us hooked, we're set, we're there. But we're not there yet." The 29-year-old mother of two works part time at La Casita. She's an Obama supporter and has been since the senator from Illinois announced his candidacy 18 months ago.
The Sandovals represent the generation gap among Hispanic voters that was evident throughout the Democratic primaries. Obama usually won among younger Hispanics, while older ones overwhelmingly favored Clinton. Now, less than 10 weeks before Nov. 4, the subtle tension between father and daughter reflects the discussions within many Hispanic households.
Every two years, pollsters like to say that the Hispanic vote is a sleeping giant. It's a giant, all right, a critical bloc in Southwestern swing states such as New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado. But it's never really asleep. It just keeps getting bigger.
Especially here, where more than 55 percent of students in the Denver public schools is Hispanic.