Latino voters support Democrats but may not vote for them, poll reports

By Nia-Malika Henderson and Krissah Thompson
Tuesday, October 5, 2010; 7:59 PM

There is good news and bad news for Democrats in a new poll ahead of the 2010 elections - Latinos support the party, but about half of those questioned say they might not show up at the polls on Nov. 2.

The gap between support and motivation provides an opening for Republicans, who have had an up-and-down relationship with Latinos over the last few years: George W. Bush made inroads, but John McCain then lost ground to Barack Obama. Recently, the GOP has done little to court these voters on issues such as education, immigration and health-care legislation.

But Republicans hold one big advantage over Democrats in key races this cycle that could matter more than any one issue - they have more high-profile Latino candidates running for statewide offices.

So even though Latinos break heavily for congressional Democrats over Republicans, in general - 65 percent to 22 percent, according to a Pew Hispanic Center poll released Tuesday - the GOP has a clear shot at attracting these voters in individual races.

The poll also found Latino Republicans to be more fired up than their Democratic counterparts - 44 percent of Latino GOPers say they have given the midterms "quite a lot of thought," compared with 28 percent of Latino Democrats.

The latter bloc has been pleased by President Obama's nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, less so by the administration's handling of immigration. In all six in 10 Latinos say they back Obama.

As the midterm election draws nearer, both parties are ramping up their efforts to reach Hispanics, the country's fastest-growing segment of the electorate, on the ground and on the airwaves.

"We are getting to the point in American politics where, in all 50 states, the Latino vote is a determining factor, especially in close races," said Fernand Amandi, a managing partner in Bendixen & Amandi, a Miami-based strategy firm. "It's becoming a national vote."

The animating factor in many races throughout the country is immigration. Education, jobs, health care and the deficit rank in the poll as more important to Latinos. But Arizona's law made immigration a national issue, and is regularly showing up as pivotal.

"Given the current situation where you have a lot of unemployment and high levels of foreclosure rates and overall disenchantment on the lack of progress on key issues - all of those elements are normally indicators that you are going to see less participation," said Clarissa Martinez De Castro, director of immigration and national campaigns for the National Council of La Raza. "But immigration has definitely been a point of conversation among Latino voters and we know from past experience that it has a motivating effect."

Here's the who, what, where and why on Latino voters in 2010 in key statewide races:

n California: There's a reason Jerry Brown keeps touting his ties to Cesar Chavez and why his Republican gubernatorial opponent Meg Whitman has used some of her ample war chest on Spanish-language mailings, bus and television ads - Latinos make up 19 percent of California's electorate.

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