Some 13 percent of Colorado’s voting age citizens are Hispanic, according to the latest census figures. And those Latinos overwhelmingly support the Democratic Party.
Two years ago, 81 percent of Colorado Latinos favored the Democrat, Michael Bennet for U.S. Senate.
It’s clear to University of Denver political scientist Seth Masket that Latinos are pivotal to the presidential election in his state.
“If they turn out in high numbers that probably means that the Democrats will win. If they don’t turn out in high numbers the Republicans could win it," Bennet said.
But will Latinos vote?
Tangia Estrada with the non-partisan group Voto Latino says yes. Estrada has been registering young Latinos in Colorado for the past month, including at a barbeque on the University of Northern Colorado campus in Greeley.
“We’re really seeing a lot of excitement," she said. "When people do come up to the table to register, they’re pretty insistent that they are going to turn out to vote on election day.”
Her goal is to register just more than 5,000 people by the state’s deadline in early October. There were about 100 prospects at the barbeque in Greeley.
“At an event like this, I would want a minimum of 25 voter registrations,” Estrada said.
After about two hours at the barbecue, it was slow going. Every few minutes one of the event organizers would implore people to register, even resorting to a little legal bribery.
“You could get an iTunes gift card,” said Brittany Harrington, speaking on a microphone. “So if you haven’t visited the Voto Latino table, then you should go visit so you can get an iTunes gift card.”
A lot of the people at the barbecue were already registered. In the end, Estrada signed up 14 more. Still, she remained upbeat.
“I think any opportunity we have a chance to interact with this many students, it’s a good night," she said.
And while Estrada professes optimism, others aren’t so cheery.
“It doesn’t look that great,” said Maria Young, an immigrant from Mexico who now helps other immigrants find professional work here through her organization CPLAN Denver.
Young showed voting statistics from two years ago: less than a third of Colorado’s Hispanic citizens voted. Their participation was 25 percent below non-Hispanic whites.
“What can we do? What can we do to motivate the other two-thirds, or whatever it is, to join us in voting?” Young asked.
It’s a struggle. Young said many Latino immigrants come from places where they don’t trust elections or politicians. And they don’t see politicians helping them here either.
“If you are working in construction or as a janitor, you don’t see any difference. The minimum wage has not changed for how long? $7.25 an hour for God sakes," she said. "So what difference does it make whether you vote one way or the other?”
Still, Young supports President Barack Obama. According to polls, so do most Latino voters in Colorado. The Obama campaign has a strong presence in Latino neighborhoods in greater Denver. There are lots of signs that read “Latinos for Obama.” Few, if any, for Mitt Romney.
Mary Ferraro, who was born and raised in Mexico, says she likes the president’s support of the DREAM Act and his executive order that gives some young undocumented immigrants a chance to stay here.
“A lot of these people went to university, and then, no jobs because they did not have a work permit. So now they’re able to work legally in the country and it’s going to benefit the economy," she said.
Marjorie Silva, originally from Peru, says the economy is already benefitting from the president’s initiatives. She runs the Azucar Bakery in Denver. She became a citizen a month ago.
“I’m voting for Obama, I love him. I think he’s good, he’s great,” Silva said. "I think he’s done some really good changes. The economy is getting better, at least for me. I can see that people are spending more money on wedding cakes. Two years ago, weddings were for 20 people, 50 people. This year, we’re back to at least 100, 200, so that’s good for everybody.”
Everybody except maybe Romney.
The Romney campaign in Colorado did not return phone calls seeking comment about its Latino strategy. But the campaign web site has a short message for Latinos in Colorado and elsewhere.
It says your community is still struggling because the Obama economy isn’t working.