LAS VEGAS -- In both Nevada and Arizona, exit polls show Latino voters represented just under 20 percent of the electorate in the Nov. 6 election.
Detailed figures aren’t available yet, but it is likely the final tally will conclude a record Latino turnout in both states.
In Nevada, Latino voters ultimately swung the election – again -- for President Barack Obama. While in Arizona, Latinos had less of a decisive impact.
On the evening before Election Day, Jorge Garcia went door to door in a neighborhood just west of the Las Vegas strip. After 40 minutes, Garcia -- a culinary union worker and a vote canvasser -- finally made contact with Juan and Luris Wong.
Garcia asked Juan Wong whether he voted early, and when Wong declined, Garcia gave him information about where to vote the following day -- his last chance to cast a ballot.
For several months before the election, the Culinary Workers Union sent nearly 100 workers like Jorge Garcia out into the community to get out the vote in Spanish. The workers take a paid leave of absence from their jobs to canvass.
“Voting is very important,” Garcia tells Latino voters in Spanish. “If you don’t vote, others will decide for you.”
Unions, Democratic Party volunteers and nonpartisan groups pushed a massive get out the vote campaign in Nevada that began months ago and resulted in record-setting turnout among Latino voters there. In Nevada, about 192,000 Latinos voted, or roughly one fifth of voters.
“We have just built a methodical infrastructure to turn out and educate Latinos to vote,” Andres Ramirez said. He’s a Democratic Party consultant in Nevada who’s worked on campaigns here since 1998. “You couldn’t watch novelas without watching political advertisements. You couldn’t turn on the radio without listening to political advertisements. You couldn’t open your mailbox without having direct mail sent to you. You were getting door knocks, phone calls, it was a very intense effort.”
He said Latinos played a decisive role here in the last few election cycles.
“Latinos delivered for Obama in 2008, they delivered for Reid in 2010, and they delivered for Obama again in 2012,” Ramirez said. “This has now been a steady trend actually beginning since 1996 in the state of Nevada.”
Ramirez gives credit to Nevada's Senator Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader. Nearly a decade ago, Reid set about building a ground game with Latino voters for the Democratic Party, a ground game that got a lot of support this year from the National Democratic Party and political PACs that poured millions into state campaigns here.
Meanwhile, in Arizona, officials are still counting ballots. But exit polls reveal that more than three quarters of Latino voters supported President Obama.
That’s actually a higher rate than in Nevada, and twenty points higher than Latino support for Obama in 2008. But little fuss has been made about that fact, since Mitt Romney won this red state so decisively.
Arizona isnt a battleground, which meant fewer national resources to help boost the Latino vote. Total spending on Spanish language political TV ads was just a third of what it was in Nevada this campaign season, according to an analysis by Kantar Media.
“People will say we are sleeping giant,” said Francisco Heredia, the Arizona director for Mi Familia Vota, a nonpartisan group dedicated to Latino civic engagement. “Here in Arizona we are the ignored giant.”
Heredia is a little jealous of his colleagues in the Silver State.
“We haven't seen the resources or the time being put by both political parties and candidates to turn out Latinos,” he said.
Instead, that task was left to several grassroots organizations like Heredia’s. Some of those efforts were given a boost by the union, UNITE HERE.
The union has a deeper history turning out Nevada voters with culinary union workers. While there is still not a robust tradition of worker-led canvasses here, this year the union’s political funds supported teams of teenagers who registered voters in Latinos neighborhoods.
Before the election, those groups celebrated boosting Latino registrations to record numbers.
Many activists hoped a record Latino voter turnout would unseat immigration hardliner, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and elect Democratic Latino candidate Richard Carmona to Senate. While neither race went that way, Democrats lost by a much smaller margin than in recent years.
“Aside from the actual who won or lost, I think the Latino vote flexed its muscles in Arizona this year in a way that it hasn’t in year’s past,” said Ethan Axelrod, the communications director for Project New America, a Denver-based strategy firm for progressive candidates.
When it comes to the Arizona Senate race, Carmona lost, but enjoyed 70 percent Latino support, according to exit polls.
“I think if you are a Republican, it’s not just the fact that the Latino turnout increased as a percentage of the electorate that should concern you,” Axelrod said. “It's the fact that they voted overwhelmingly for Democrats, which really hasn’t been the case in Arizona as much as in a state like Nevada in the past.”
That’s one factor that keeps strategists like Axelrod believing it is only a matter of time before the Grand Canyon state becomes a battleground.
Nationwide, the Pew Hispanic Center concluded the Latino vote is likely double by 2030.