When It Comes To Latinos, Election Is Both About Youth And Tradition
October 15, 2010

SAN DIEGO -- With midterm elections less than two weeks away, efforts to get the coveted Latino vote are ramping up. Democrats are hoping for a loyal turnout, while Republicans are appealing to the disenchanted.

A voter goes to the polls in the predominantly Latino neighborhood of Boyle Heights on February 5, 2008 in Los Angeles, California.

In San Diego, the Registrar of Voters is focused on a single goal: getting people to sign up and show up on Nov. 2. The office is at full capacity, with dozens of new outreach and poll workers in training. They're translating materials into Spanish, folding up ballots and discussing strategy.

Outreach coordinator Carmen Lopez says that reaching first-time and young Latino voters is at the top of their list.

"Right now there's a Latino that's turning 18 every 30 seconds in the U.S.," said Lopez. "So because we have a younger population, it's very important to engage our young folks in being part of the process."

According to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), the number of California Latino youth who are registering to vote has been growing exponentially -- an estimated 15 percent in the last five years. NALEO says that as that population grows, so has their support for the Democratic party.

Republicans would like to see this traditional devotion to the Democratic party change.

Alfonso Aguilar is the director of the Washington-based Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles. On a recent evening, he made a stop at a rally for Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina held at a Spanish-language evangelical church in Chula Vista.

Aguilar endorses Fiorina and defends her tough stance on immigration, including her tacit endorsement of Arizona's new immigration law.

"It's not that she has supported the Arizona law -- I think she chose her words very carefully," explained Aguilar. "She said that she thought it was unfortunate that laws like Arizona's are necessary because the federal government has not acted. Not only not acted to protect the border, but not acting in pushing for immigration reform."

A recent poll by the Pew Hispanic Center found that many Latinos may not care enough about immigration reform nor politics in general to vote on election day.

But in border states like California and Arizona, the turnout could be different.

"I had never voted before because I wasn't a citizen," said Rafael Renteria, a 36-year old from Mexico. Last month, he became naturalized. "But now that I am, I've become more involved. I'm not necessarily supporting Fiorina because she's a Republican. I'm voting for the candidate that will advance my family values."

By family values, Renteria is referring to his views against abortion and gay marriage. At the Fiorina rally, he's joined by about 50 other young Latinos who share the same opinion.

According to NALEO, Latinos of all faiths and political views make up about a third of California's electorate. This means that any and all candidates will need that Latino vote on Nov. 2 in order to win.

In San Diego, the Chicano Democratic Association is meeting to discuss endorsements for local office. Everyone here is in their mid-thirties or younger, the types of individuals that were mobilized to get out the vote in droves back in 2008 for now-President Barack Obama.

Ricardo Flores is the president of the Chicano Democratic Association. He says that some Republican candidates around the country are increasingly appealing to the Latino electorate.

"You're gonna have to work for our vote, you're gonna have to come to our communities, speak our language and understand our issues," said Flores. "You're seeing that in Texas. You can notice that right now, the incumbent governor of Texas isn't going out there blasting Latinos like the Arizona governor is doing. He's actually saying 'You know what? I'm not gonna say those things because I know the numbers are on my side and I want to make sure those folks are going to be voting for me.'"

Flores says he believes that Democrats will not be able to take the Latino vote for granted this election. He and his colleagues are spending the next two weeks going door to door, talking to registered voters, trying to bring back some of the excitement they felt among young voters during the presidential election.