Latino voters are concerned that issues of particular interest to them will be overlooked in the presidential campaign because they live mostly outside battleground states, according to panelists who spoke at a meeting of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.
About 75 percent of the nation's Hispanics live in California, Texas, Illinois, New York and Florida, and only Florida is considered a battleground state. At town hall meetings NALEO sponsored in five cities across the country, the panelists said, participants expressed concern about the attention the candidates would pay to issues important to them -- education, immigration, jobs and health care.
"Latino voters feel that they are not being listened to by the candidates," said Arturo Vargas, NALEO's executive director. "They care about children, about the future, about education."
Hoping to allay those concerns, the Democratic candidate, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), will address the NALEO conference, which is being held in Washington today. His appearance will follow one yesterday by Marc Racicot, chairman of the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign. Racicot also assured his audience that Republicans care about the Hispanic community and its voters.
"Latinos are willing to cross party lines to vote for candidates who represent their interests," NALEO said in its recent Annual Voter Report for 2004.
The group's members were elected in districts and municipalities where 12.7 million Hispanics live without medical insurance. A report by Families USA found that 60 percent of Hispanics were uninsured in the past two years.
NALEO's conference is the first of several gatherings of Hispanics and blacks, the nation's largest minority groups, to be held in June and July.
The conference of the National Council of La Raza is scheduled to begin today in Phoenix, and the League of United Latin American Citizens conference is set for July in San Antonio.
The Rainbow/PUSH Coalition is scheduled to start its conference this weekend in Chicago, two weeks before the NAACP's conference in Philadelphia. The National Urban League's conference in Detroit is scheduled for July 21-25.
At NALEO's conference, Vargas sat on a panel with two other Hispanic specialists, Maria Elena Salinas, a news anchor at the Latin television station Univision, and Leobardo F. Estrada, an associate professor and demographer at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. They discussed issues that concern Latinos and how they are influenced to vote.
"In Chicago, people are more concerned about education," said Salinas, who participated in town hall meetings in Chicago, New York, Houston, Miami and Los Angeles. "In Miami, they care about international issues, and in Houston, moral issues."
Salinas said those differences in concerns by the Latino electorate "will make it difficult for them to unite and vote as a bloc," the way African Americans do.
But if there is one issue that unites Hispanics, Estrada said, it is the future of their children and education. "It's a non-pocketbook issue," he said.