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Will Latinos swing the West to Democrats?

By Edward Schumacher-Matos

As the Western returns come in tonight, look out for the possibility of a Latino surprise. Matt Barreto, who does the LatinoDecisions tracking poll, told me that Latino turnout is running higher than expected and going even more to the Democrats than it did in 2008, when it was key for Barack Obama.

For the Democrats, a high Latino turnout could possibly save Harry Reid in Nevada, push Barbara Boxer over the top in California and save Michael Bennet in Colorado. Three big Senate seats caught up in tight races.

Barreto reports that his polling was showing that nearly 50 percent of expected Hispanic voters had by Monday night already been to the polls in many states. "I remember saying, 'Wow, this is high,'" he told me. His results jibe with statements by White House political adviser David Axelrod, who told reporters that the number of Hispanic voters who cast early ballots grew by 13 percent compared to 2006.

The robo polls that dominated the run-up over the last few days were almost all in English and so don't fully pick up the Latino vote, particularly of first generation immigrants, who are Spanish dominant. Exit polls aren't any better, as they focus on a sampling of precincts and not ethnic groups. LatinoDecisions focuses only on Hispanics, by phone, in both languages.

Hispanics make up 12 percent of the registered voters in Nevada, 18 percent in California and 10 percent in Colorado. High Latino turnout can swing a neck-and-neck race, and even cover a 2 or 3 percent reported Democratic gap.

What's driving the extra Latinos to the polls is the ugly rhetoric from Republicans over unauthorized immigrants and their opposition to comprehensive reform, Barreto said.

Obama won 69 percent of the vote in 2008. Barreto projected that the Democrats would surpass that for 2010. If true in the event, it will present a dilemma for the Republicans in the new Congress between satisfying their anti-immigrant base and reclaiming voters from the nation's largest and fastest growing minority.

The Latino turnout was roughly 60 percent among registered voters in 2006. There was great concern that that number would not be matched this year because of disillusionment with the Democrats over the economy and failure to push immigration reform. But Barreto reports that enthusiasm to vote grew markedly in the closing days of the campaign.

Republican ads in Colorado suggesting that they stay home were repugnant. They were reputed by more democratic-minded Republicans. They also seem to have had the opposite effect.

By Edward Schumacher-Matos  | November 2, 2010; 8:07 PM ET
Categories:  Schumacher-Matos  | Tags:  Edward Schumacher-Matos  
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