The swing vote in a swing state

Hispanic voters may determine if Colorado goes blue or red.

By Ruth Moon

The upcoming presidential election has Manuel Pilas confused.

Pilas, a Mexican immigrant who came to the United States for college, said voting is important to him and he will vote in the election, but he has no idea who he will vote for.

“There’s no way a businessperson can open up completely — I cannot really take my flag out and say this is the way I’m voting,” said Pilas, who owns the Santa Fe Furniture store in Gypsum. “[But] I can say that in this election I’m going to be the most confused ever.”

Pilas is not alone. Hispanic voters will face a ballot this fall with both their Democratic favorite, Sen. Hillary Clinton, and their
Republican favorite, Rudy Giuliani, missing from the ticket. A nationwide Pew Research Center survey conducted last December discovered that Hispanic Democrats favored Clinton by 59 percent, with only 15 percent of Hispanic Democrats supporting Obama. Only 10 percent of Hispanic Republicans supported GOP candidate John McCain.

Hispanic support for the Republican party has dropped substantially since the last presidential election. In the 2004 election, George W. Bush drew a record 40 percent of the Hispanic vote; the Pew survey shows that Latino Republican support is now down to 23 percent.

One voter’s solution will be to vote for her chosen candidate anyway. Hispanic Eagle resident Caroline Gonzales, 65, said she has been a Democrat all her life and will write Clinton in on the ballot in this year’s election.

Gonzales heard Obama speak at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, where she was a delegate from Iowa. “He has a lot of charisma, but that’s about it,” she said. “He looks like a wonderfully wrapped Christmas gift but you open the box and there’s nothing there.”

Hispanic vote is key

No matter what their solution, Hispanic voters will play a key role in the election, especially in Colorado. Colorado will likely be a swing state in this election, and Latinos have a substantial say in the results because they comprise 12 percent of eligible voters, according to the Pew Research Center.

Eagle County’s population is 27 percent Hispanic. But it is impossible to know what percentage of Eagle County voters are Hispanic, said Teak Simonton, county clerk and recorder.

Race demographics aren’t recorded on voter registration cards and surnames are also a bad indication, as many people with Hispanic-sounding last names are not Latino, she said.

The number of registered Latino voters in the state has gone up from 165,000 in 2004 to 273,824 in 2007, said Lindsay Daniels, field strategist for civic engagement at the Latin American Research and Service Agency.

Colorado is one of four swing states in which Hispanics have “a sizeable share” of the vote, according to the research center. The other states are New Mexico, Florida and Nevada.

“Because Colorado is a battleground state, it looks like Latinos could have a role in pushing the state Democratic or Republican,” said Mark Lopez, associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center.

Democratic National Committeewoman and superdelegate Debbie Marquez said she will be campaigning heavily for the Hispanic vote in Eagle County and Colorado for this election.

“Our Latino vote is probably the answer to winning the state in November. There’s no question about it,” she said. “I don’t know any Latinos that will be sitting out this election so far.”

A look at the issues Marquez said the issues concerning Hispanic voters in this election are similar to those facing the rest of the nation’s voters.

The economy, healthcare, immigration, education and the war on Iraq are top issues across demographics in this election, Marquez said, but Hispanic voters are more concerned than other voters about immigration policy.

Gonzales said the most important issues to her in the upcoming election are the economy, healthcare and the educational system. She is supporting Jared Polis for U.S. House of Representatives because of his educational policies.

Pilas, 44, said business at his furniture store has been very bad this year, and he hopes the upcoming election will change that.
“I’m tired of the economy being like this — it has really hurt business,” Pilas said. “I don’t want another year of stress. I’d rather be out of business.”

Pilas said immigration and economic policy will be key factors in deciding his vote. “There are really nice people who have lived here for many years who were brought in when they were 2 years old, now they’re 20, going to college and can’t receive scholarships. That is a wrong system,” Pilas said. “I’d like to see if any of those candidates have an agenda that addresses that and shows compassion to those people.”

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