In the waning days of contentious Senate, gubernatorial and Congressional campaigns here, both parties are doing everything they can to get this state’s large Hispanic population to vote. Campaigns, parties and outside groups are making thousands of phone calls and knocking on hundreds of doors each day.
The stakes are high – Latinos make up about 21 percent of Colorado’s population, and about 14 percent of voters. But there are significant hurdles, including that many do not turn out for midterm elections. And perhaps most importantly this year, many are dissatisfied with seeing immigration reform stall in Congress and President Obama delay executive action until after the election.
“The Latino vote might make the deciding factor in this election,” said Rudy Garcia, 20, who has spent weeks knocking doors in heavily Latino West Denver for Mi Familia Vota, a nonpartisan but left-leaning organization. “If we’re going to want to see any change in immigration, change in education, change in our communities, we’re going to have to vote on it.”
Democrats looking to turn out Hispanic voters are, in the Senate race, reaching out to community leaders and groups and touting incumbent Mark Udall’s outspokenness on the need for immigration reform. They are also highlighting the record of Udall’s opponent, Republican Rep. Cory Gardner, who initially voted to strip protections from undocumented young people known as dreamers, but later changed his mind.
“The Latino community is really energized here. They’re energized because they know I stand with them. They also saw me express my disappointment with the president’s decision to delay,” Udall said at a campaign stop in Thorton, Colo., Sunday.
“I’ve made it very clear that after I’m reelected I’m going to be at the doorstep of the White House pushing them to use the executive authority they have to keep families together. That’s the key,” Udall said.
Democrats are hosting special get out the vote initiatives, like the one here in Greeley, to urge Hispanics to vote and volunteer. Only two volunteers, a husband and wife, showed up at the 1 p.m. start time. After a quick primer they headed, with their four-year-old son in tow, to knock on doors.
On the Republican side, the push to get Latino votes is part of a larger, nationwide movement to make inroads with the Hispanic population by showing a year-round dedicated presence in communities.
The Republican Party has full-time staffers in 10 states with heavily Hispanic populations, including three here in Colorado whose job it is to identify leaders and engage with the community, solidifying a presence that has only come in and out during election cycles and building a base of support.
The goal, said GOP spokeswoman Ali Pardo, is “to earn the trust of the community.”
Pardo said the party is heavily focusing on economic issues and is discussing immigration reform as “something we all want to get fixed.”
According to a Pew Research Center Hispanic Trends Project survey released last week, 54 percent of respondents said a candidate’s stance on immigration “is not a deal breaker if a candidate shares their views on most other issues,” according to the report. The survey said 57 percent of Latino voters support Democratic candidates and 28 percent Republicans, though Democratic support has waned in recent years.
A hand-painted sign reading “Sabado Gigante!” hung on the window of a Republican office in the battleground city of Aurora, a stunning view of the Denver skyline and mountains behind it. Volunteers worked the phones, reaching out to three constituencies: regular voters, Hispanic voters and Asian voters.
Volunteers worked the phones in Spanish, including State Republican chairman Ryan Call. He picked up the language as a missionary in Southern California and while studying in Spain.
“You’re always trying to develop relationships and trust and open lines of communication. And we may not always agree on everything, but if people feel like the door of the party is always open,” Call said of the Latino community, “it helps inspire more confidence that ours is the party that will listen and fix the problems that are getting in the way of their opportunities.”
Having candidates and party officials who speak Spanish has been crucial for both parties. In the Sixth Congressional district, incumbent Rep. Mike Coffman (R) and Democratic challenger Andrew Romanoff debated in Spanish. Romanoff is fluent, having learned the language while living in Central America. Coffman is studying the language with an intensive tutor and watches a lot of Spanish-language television, including the variety show “Sabado Gigante!” and the news on Univision.
Outside groups including Mi Familia Vota and SEIU are also working to galvanize the Hispanic population here. So is the Libre Initiative, a conservative organization funded by the Koch Brothers.
Sporting blue T-shirts reading #BeLibre, volunteers fanned out across West Denver neighborhoods all day Saturday, handing out door flyers and explaining positions. Each volunteer held an electronic tablet outfitted with a map, and knocked on the doors of houses marked with pins.
Latinos, said Libre spokesman Ronald Najarro, “have the possibility of swinging who takes the Senate seat in Colorado.”
“We’re out here canvassing, trying to raise awareness of policies that don’t hinder economic growth,” Najarro said.
In another part of West Denver, Rudy Garcia knocked on doors and bought a tamarind paleta from a man selling them from a cart; Garcia spoke to the man in Spanish and asked if he had voted. He already had.
After talking to the man selling paletas, Garcia walked up to a man sitting in his yard on a plastic chair. Children’s toys were strewn about, and a stroller sat propped up against a fence.
“You registered to vote, bro?” Garcia asked. The man, Ivan Ruiz, 20, said no. “There’s no way for us to solve issues like immigration reform, the school system, if you don’t vote,” Garcia said.
“I don’t even know how to vote,” Ruiz said.
Garcia explained how easy it is: just go to the rec center down the street, bring your valid Colorado ID, and be sure to do some research to educate yourself. Ruiz asked Garcia for whom he planned to vote; Garcia said he “can’t tell you because I’m on the job.”
“The Latino vote really does matter this year, and if we all vote,” Garcia said, “We’re gonna start changing some stuff with immigration reform and education.”
Garcia handed Ruiz the elections matter flyer and signed him up for the organization’s mailing list. Ruiz said he’d start looking into the election – and think about voting.