Members of Arizona’s delegation to the Democratic National Convention are hoping to return home better positioned to inspire stronger Latino voter participation in November.
Their goals include drawing on the rapidly growing youth population by capitalizing on frustrations over anti-immigrant legislation in Arizona. They also are buoyed by President Barack Obama’s two-year deferral program for undocumented youths and the promise of a party platform that includes support for comprehensive immigration reform.
“Truly the next president of the United States will be elected because of the Latino vote,” state Rep. Anna Tovar, D-Tolleson, the House Minority Whip, said Monday outside of the National Hispanic Caucus.
As the convention continues through Thursday, Tovar said, the Arizona delegation will share strategies with Hispanic leaders from different states.
She said the state Democratic Party aims to register 80,000 new Latino voters for this election but is only halfway there.
“As leaders from Arizona we need to make sure we educate our constituents on the importance of keeping President Obama in office,” she said.
Frank Camacho, spokesman for the Arizona Democratic Party, said the Arizona Democrats will ramp up the vote by making sure Latinos register and turn out. Delegates will take back a “greater sense of urgency” to get young Latinos to vote when they return to Arizona, he said.
Democrats plan to go door to door and engage voters directly.
Latinos, who make up 30 percent of Arizona’s population, could account for half of all Arizonans by 2050, according to a report by Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy. As thousands of Latinos reach voting age every month, both Democrats and Republicans are looking for new ways to attract this increasingly powerful voting bloc.
“Another 15 to 20 years from now is when Latino voters will really come into fruition,” said Joe Garcia, director of the Morrison Institute’s Latino Public Policy Center.
But members of the Arizona Democratic delegation say the time for the Latino vote is now.
“This is the year that we are going to get the Latino vote,” said Rosie Lopez, a delegate and longtime Phoenix immigrant rights activist. “The mean-spirited legislation that the Arizona State Legislature passed has really energized our people.”
Garcia said strict anti-immigration laws like SB 1070 could help mobilize Latinos to vote Democratic this fall, as could fiery rhetoric from state Republican officials over Obama’s recent executive order allowing some undocumented youth to work in the U.S.
“People vote through awareness and they vote through emotion,” Garcia said. “Those hit both of those spots.”
State Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, said organizing in the Latino community over the past two years helped elect Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton and Phoenix Councilman Daniel Valenzuela.
Gallego said most of that increase has been due to DREAM Act-eligible students with family members who are citizens and able to vote.
But registering voters isn’t enough, Gallego said.
“Just because we registered the Latino vote doesn’t mean they’ll vote our way,” he said. “We still have to treat the population like you would any other population, address the issues that matter to them.”
Tovar said the Latino community has middle class priorities: jobs, education, health care.
“Those are the issues for Latino families,” she said.
Garcia said Democrats can take advantage of unpopular Republican policies but that Latinos generally line up with Republican ideals on faith and family values.
“If (Arizona Republicans) were more moderate, they could get a bigger pull,” Garcia said.
Arizona GOP spokesman Tim Sifert said Republicans will point to Latinos’ high unemployment rate in Arizona, 11 percent compared to the states’ overall rate of 8.2 percent.
“Hispanics in Arizona are doing disproportionately poorly under the Obama administration,” he said in a telephone interview.