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Election outcome shows Hispanic influence growing in Nevada, U.S.

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Steve Marcus

An election worker hands a voting card to a voter on election day at Paradise Elementary School Tuesday, November 6, 2012.

Updated Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012 | 8:12 p.m.

Mitt Romney had virtually no chance of winning the vote of Michael Flores, an organizer for progressive group Progress Now Nevada and volunteer for President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, but the GOP presidential candidate could have won the support of Flores’ grandmother.

“My grandmother is a Republican and has always been very fiscally conservative,” said Flores, 25. “What has happened over the last couple of years is the rhetoric has gotten so harsh on immigration that she couldn’t vote for Romney. After he mentioned self-deportation, she could not wrap her head around voting for him. At the end of the day immigration reform is a moral and social-justice issue for Latinos.”

When it comes to Romney’s inability to garner even 30 percent of the Hispanic electorate, after a concerted effort by the Republican National Committee to expand Hispanic outreach, it may be the loss of voters like Flores’ grandmother that haunt the GOP the most.

“My grandma received a million calls and saw all the ads from the Republicans and Romney,” Flores said. “She’s frustrated with Obama and felt Mitt Romney was probably the best one to fix the economy. But at the end of the day, she couldn’t get past his stance on immigration.”

The Hispanic electorate flexed its muscle Tuesday, as many political observers expected, solidifying its importance in future elections and bolstering its position in demanding results from elected officials.

Hispanics turned out in record numbers nationally and in Nevada, where their numbers were up nearly 25 percent over 2008, and they overwhelmingly voted to give Obama a second term in the White House. In the Silver State, Obama’s lead among Hispanic voters translated to an 8.1 percent difference in the overall tally, more than the 7 percentage points he won the state by over Romney.

However, those voters will not forget that a plan for reforming the immigration system was one of the missed goals on the president’s first-term agenda. The deferred action program that spared some young immigrants residing in the country illegally from deportation was popular with the Hispanic electorate, but it is a temporary program.

“I do believe there is an expectation among Latinos that immigration reform will get done,” Flores said. “There was a huge turn out of Latinos for Obama, and if he doesn’t get this done, I do believe there will be a backlash for the next person who runs for president as a Democrat, and for the whole party in general.”

The message on the morning after the election from Hispanic community leaders and those who helped turn out Hispanic voters was clear: Hispanics can swing elections, their electoral power will only grow going forward and they expect their concerns to be addressed.

“The Latino giant is wide awake, cranking and it’s taking names,” said Eliseo Medina, secretary-treasurer of Service Employees International Union. SEIU engaged in a vigorous get-out-the-vote campaign and Medina canvassed in Las Vegas leading up to Election Day. SEIU partnered with the Democratic political action committee Priorities USA Action on a $4 million ad campaign targeting Hispanic voters.

“Yesterday Latino people helped elect a president, and showed they are part of the political future in this country. … Latinos understand who stands with us and who stands against us,” he said Wednesday.

CNN’s exit polls showed Hispanic voters made up 10 percent of the overall vote, the first time the number has hit double digits, and 71 percent of them picked Obama. In Nevada, Hispanics made up 18 percent of the vote, up from about 15 percent in 2008, and a similar proportion voted for Obama.

“For the first time, it can be plausibly said that Latinos were decisive in deciding the popular vote,” said Gary Segura a Latino Decisions pollster, adding that if Romney had managed to win 35 percent of the Hispanic electorate, he would have won the popular vote.

Segura said Hispanic voters clearly made a difference in Colorado and Nevada, where a more even split among candidates could have swung the states toward the GOP candidate.

Latino Decisions said in all, 245,000 Hispanics registered to vote in Nevada for the 2012 election. About 180,000 of them – 73 percent – actually cast a ballot. Four years ago, an estimated 143,000 Hispanics voted in the presidential election in Nevada.

In 2008, Obama won 76 percent of the state’s Hispanic voters, meaning Romney was able to eat into the margin slightly.

The Republican National Committee rolled out a national Hispanic outreach plan this year, and vastly expanded its network of Hispanic volunteers in Nevada and elsewhere. Hispanic voters and strategists from both parties said the GOP’s increased efforts were noticeable.

Nelson Santiago, communication director for Nevada Hispanics, a conservative political action committee affiliated with American Principles in Action, said the RNC’s efforts this year were commendable but he grew frustrated with the Romney campaign. Nevada Hispanics advocated for socially conservative policies, such as restrictions on abortion and same-sex marriage, fiscally conservative policies and comprehensive immigration reform.

“We were interested in seeing (Sen. Marco) Rubio as a vice presidential candidate,” Santiago said. Certainly the GOP needs to expand its base. Right from the beginning we were very concerned about the kind of strategy that the Republicans would put forth nationally. We made our points of view known to (the Romney campaign), but the people with money disagreed with us. We feel we had a better understanding of the overall Hispanic electorate, and we had a better understanding of Nevada, but no one wanted to listen to us.”

Santiago said some early campaign ads were “hokey” and poorly translated, and the campaign should have started earlier with ads and other methods for reaching Hispanic voters. Nevada Hispanics, which does not advocate for a “blanket amnesty” but wishes to see a “humane” approach to immigration reform, ran ads criticizing the record number of deportations under Obama.

Yet, in the end voters like Flores said the groups like Nevada Hispanics and the conservative political action committee Libre Initiative were left to focus on the president’s negatives more than Romney’s positives for Hispanics.

The effects of the growing Hispanic electorate’s influence could be seen down ticket as well. CNN’s exit polls showed Hispanics made up 17 percent of those voting in the Nevada U.S. Senate race, suggesting some Hispanic voters cast a vote for president but not Senate. Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley, who ended up losing the Senate seat to Republican Sen. Dean Heller by 12,000 votes, garnered 65 percent of the Hispanic vote. Had Berkley received 70 percent of the Hispanic vote, it would have translated to roughly 8,500 more votes. In theory, if that 5 percent had come from Heller’s camp instead of those who voted for a third-party candidate or for none of the candidates, Berkley would have won the election.

“Heller was more aggressive in trying to capture the Latino vote than Romney,” said Andres Ramirez, a Democratic strategist and president of consulting firm Ramirez Group. “Heller spent more money and got started earlier on than the Romney campaign.”

Election eve polls from Latino Decisions showed Obama enjoyed a large advantage in perception among Hispanic voters. More than half of Hispanic voters said Romney “does not care about Latinos” and 18 percent said he was “hostile toward Latinos.” By comparison, 66 percent of Hispanic voters said Obama “truly cares about Latinos.”

Ramirez said, despite the party makeup of Congress being similar to the previous two years, he thinks a compromise on a plan for immigration reform can be reached.

“The Republicans had significant losses where they showed extremist candidates,” Ramirez said. “In Nevada they almost lost a candidate because of Latino turnout. The

Republicans have been unable to gain a majority in the Senate with extremist candidates, and if they hope to once again have the majority, they will have to moderate their positions to be competitive.”

The Latino Decisions poll also showed that 31 percent of Hispanic voters said they would be more likely to vote for a Republican if the party took the lead on a plan for immigration reform.

“The immigration polices of the Republican Party are causing them to lose votes they might otherwise receive,” Segura said.

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