Janesville31.2°

Targeting the growing Latino vote

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Ted Sullivan
October 26, 2008
— Adan Aguirre was born in Mexico, but he bleeds red, white and blue.

He has voted in every presidential election since 1994, when he became a U.S. citizen. This year, Aguirre is attracting attention from Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama.


“I get phone calls and a lot of stuff in the mail,” the Delavan resident said.


Aguirre and other Latinos are being heavily courted by both presidential candidates. They are the fastest-growing minority population in Walworth County.


The campaigns are targeting Latino voters with Spanish-language advertising. Bilingual volunteers are visiting Hispanic neighborhoods. The campaigns also are registering Latino voters.


Hispanics said the economy and immigration are their top concerns. Social issues also are important for the religious, family-oriented community.


Polls suggest Latino voters lean left, but both campaigns know they must earn Hispanic votes. Latinos include about 7 percent of eligible voters in Walworth County.


“They have a voice that needs to be heard, just like the rest of us. They’re an underrepresented, under-tapped population that we would like to get involved,” said Kate Harrod, chair of the Walworth County Democratic Party.


Bill Bosworth, chair of the Walworth County Republican Party, said Hispanics are a coveted demographic.


“We understand that it’s an important segment of the population, but we go after every vote,” Bosworth said. “We appreciate their help and support.”


Underrepresented

The Latino presence can be felt in downtown Delavan. LaModa clothing store has a sign reading “deportes” or sports. A Mexican-owned “panaderia” or bakery advertises “pastel” or cake. A shop sells piñatas and sombreros. Mexican restaurants abound.


Hispanics represent 8.6 percent of Walworth County’s residents, according to 2007 U.S. Census Bureau estimates.


But Latinos continue to be underrepresented in elections.


Many are not U.S. citizens or not 18 years old, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, and not all Latinos go to the polls.


“We need to get out and really be a part of the decision-making process,” Dora Alcozer-LaForest of Delavan said. “Every vote counts.”


Some Hispanic residents lived under corrupt governments in other nations, discouraging them from going to the polls in America, said Margarita Garfias De Christianson, a bilingual specialist for Head Start in Rock and Walworth Counties.


They are unfamiliar with the voting process, she said.


“The Latino population is a new population,” she said. “A lot of them are new to this inclusion in how this country is going to go.”


Courting Latinos

Both presidential campaigns are chasing Hispanic voters statewide and in Walworth County.


Bilingual volunteers call homes, knock on doors, register voters and reach out to friends. Both candidates have Spanish-language fliers, signs and brochures.


“We have an Obama team in Delavan, and many Latinos are helping with that,” Harrod said.


Television viewers in Walworth County will see Obama ads featuring a Latino couple. The couple asks voters to “come join us.”


“It will try and demonstrate that we have some diversity,” Harrod said.


Camille Solberg, the state Hispanic chair for the McCain campaign, said Republicans have a Spanish slogan, “estados unidos,” which means “we’re united.”


The McCain campaign sends out weekly newsletters and e-mails to Latino residents, Solberg said.


“For me, I just feel it’s my duty, as well as the duty of others … to bring the other side to the Hispanic community,” she said. “We feel we need to educate them.”


Liberal or conservative

Latinos lean to the left.


About 66 percent of registered Latino voters side with Obama, compared to 23 percent with McCain, according to the Hispanic Center. Other recent polls show similar margins.


Many younger, educated Latinos tend to be liberal, Garfias De Christianson said. Older, churchgoing Hispanics are conservative.


Moderate voters look for candidates that might help the next generation, she said.


“It is important for them to hear that someone is going to offer them a path to a better future,” she said.


Walworth County has historically voted for Republicans, but the Hispanic population might change things, the county’s Democratic chair said.


“I think the face of Walworth County is changing, and it’s time that diverse people are represented,” Harrod said. “The county has been pretty heavy Republican forever.”


The issues

Latinos are concerned about the economy, health care, immigration and family values.


“We want good jobs with good pay and benefits so we can take care of our families,” said Alcozer-LaForest, a Democrat. “A lot of people I talk to, that’s their concern, and they don’t have health care and they can’t afford it.”


She also is concerned about the Iraq War. Her cousin was killed in Iraq. Many other Latinos serve in the war.


Solberg, a Republican, said abortion is an issue for many conservative Hispanics, but jobs and immigration are bigger concerns.


“In the Hispanic community, obviously, family values are important,” she said. “But it’s not right on the top of their minds.”


Hispanics want immigration reform. They desire a path to citizenship that is easier and more affordable.


Aguirre, a Delavan resident for 10 years, said immigration is the No. 1 issue for him.


“We want reform for all the people that don’t have papers,” he said. “I think they help the economy. They do work others don’t want to do.”


And the economic crisis is his No. 2 issue.


“The Latino population is hurting because there are no jobs,” Aguirre said. “They’re losing houses because they cannot pay.”



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