Candidates vie for Latino vote


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This story was originally covered by PRI's Here and Now. For more, listen to the audio above.

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The key to winning elections in 2012 and beyond may be in the Latino community. Latino voters are credited for tipping the 2010 election for both Democrat Harry Reid and Republican Marco Rubio. According to Matt Barreto, a public opinion expert with Latino Decisions, both parties need to do a better job if they expect to get Latino votes in the future.

"Republicans will not be able to win a lot of these key states in the Southwest or Florida if they don't get back to talking about Latino issues and doing outreach in the way that George W Bush did," Barreto told PRI's Here and Now. "And that's what some Republicans have not figured out."

Many Republican candidates have alienated Latinos with there harsh rhetoric, according to Barreto. Candidates like Sharon Angle of Nevada have portrayed immigrants as criminals and a threat. Barreto says the rhetoric "turns Latinos off from the Republican party, and it could have lasting effects."

The lack of support from some Republicans doesn't mean that Latinos will necessarily be voting Democrat. Historically, Latinos have tended to vote with the Democrats at high rates, but that's in danger, too. Barreto says that Democratic candidates, including Barack Obama, promised immigration reform that has never arrived. While some view Republicans as attacking Latinos, others view Democrats as ignoring them.

At the same time, some Republicans are making headway. "It is possible to hold conservative positions on the immigration issue without alienating Latinos," Barreto says, "but you need to do it in a respectful manner, and you need speak about the issues in a way that doesn't seem like you're attacking the Latino community." He cites Marco Rubio in Florida and Susana Martinez of New Mexico as examples.

Both parties need to work harder for the Latino vote, Barreto says. In recent polls, when Latinos were asked why they vote and why they follow elections, "to represent and support the Latino community, that was the highest answer given," according to Barreto. Citizen groups and nonprofits like Mi Familia Vota have been doing the lion's share of work engaging Latino voters, but now the political parties need to start stepping up, too. Barreto told Here and Now:

"If the parties want the Latino vote, they're going to need to get out, do the voter registration drives, do the voter mobilization drives, and really campaign for the Latino vote"

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