LAS VEGAS -- Every afternoon, teams of canvassers with the organization Mi Familia Vota, swarm Las Vegas grocery stores, DMVs and shopping malls, with the hope of registering Latino voters.
“If we want our issues to be addressed,” said Leo Murrieta, the Mi Familia Vota Nevada State Director, “they need to know that we vote.”
Murrieta says President Obama’s announcement last week that his administration would stop deporting young undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children, has created a buzz among Latinos in Las Vegas.
“If our community wants more good news like this, the we are going to have to vote in November,” Murrieta said. “If we want good news after November, whether it is a Democrat or a Republican or none of the above in the White House, we need to participate.”
Those are the votes the two presidential candidates are vying for.
That’s why both Obama and Mitt Romney will be in Orlando this week, to speak to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, also known as NALEO.
More than 1200 Latino leaders from all over the country will be there, including Nevada Assembly Democrat Lucy Flores.
“You know this is a very important annual gathering. It is kind of the Latino political convention of the year,” said Flores from her law office, where she keeps a photograph of herself standing with President Obama.
Flores represents a heavily Latino district, and she is eager to hear the president articulate a message to a Latino audience in his remarks at the conference on Friday.
“What is the next step as far as education, jobs, comprehensive immigration reform,” Flores said.
Romney’s stance on immigration reform has been problematic for many Latino leaders.
“He hasn’t said very good things,” Flores said. “Will he continue to say the same things or will he change his message?”
Elon University political scientist Kenneth Fernandez warns there is potential for both candidates to come under fire as they go in front of an audience of Latino leaders.
“There could be some uncomfortable questions, like Obama has made some promises and he hasn’t been able to fulfill,” Fernandez said. “Romney has come out against the DREAM Act, and has praised some controversial laws that were passed, like the one in Arizona.”
Romney has not said if he would repeal the Obama administration’s new policy to stop deporting certain young, undocumented immigrants if he is elected. The Republican candidate will address immigration in his Thursday remarks at NALEO, though his focus will be on the economy, according to an adviser's comments to reporters on a conference call.
NALEO’s leadership predicts turnout will be critical in this election. The organization is projecting 12.2 million Latinos will vote this year. That’s a dramatic 26 percent increase in turnout from 2008.
But whether the Latino electorate hits those powerful numbers this year will depend on whether they hear a message from the candidates that inspires them to go to the polls.