Published June 22, 2012
What's shaping up to be a close election could hinge on a group of voters that hasn't always felt it had much of a voice in American politics. Many analysts now say the Hispanic voting bloc will be the deciding factor in the 2012 presidential election.
"It's becoming a swing vote," explained Dario Moreno, political science professor at Florida International University.
Moreno said Hispanics might be the "deciding factor" in four states -- Florida, New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada.
Those four are among the most contested swing states in the country this year. The candidate who takes them has a good chance of winning it all, and the Romney and Obama campaigns are actively courting Latino voters there.
Both candidates spoke at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials conference in Florida this week. Mitt Romney accused President Obama of failing to seriously address immigration reform and criticized the president's recent directive offering temporary relief from deportation for young illegal immigrants.
"He called it a stop-gap measure, that he seems to think will be just enough to get him through the election. ... I will put in place my own long-term solution that will replace and supersede the president's temporary measure," Romney said.
Obama told the NALEO audience that he would never give up fighting for immigration reform and said that Romney, "promised to veto the DREAM Act, and we should take him at his word." The DREAM Act is the legislative precursor to last week's policy change.
In the quest for the Hispanic vote, both campaigns have also released Spanish language TV ads in Colorado, Nevada and Florida. And there will surely be many more in the coming months. Despite research that consistently shows political ads work, every Hispanic voter Fox News talked to on a recent morning in Miami said the ads would not work on them.
"That's advertising, so that doesn't persuade me at all," said Armando Paz, who is Cuban-American. "They're all politicians so they tell you one thing and they'll do the other."
Juan Miranda, of Puerto Rican heritage, added, "I haven't really paid too much attention because ads are just marketing. What we need is action. They need to implement what they say."
Alfonso Sanchez, who is Colombian-American, put it more succinctly. "I hate them! I hate them! I hate them talking about each other! I hate them!" he said.
Ryan Call, chairman of the Colorado Republican Party and a key adviser to the Romney campaign for the state, admitted the ads do not "replace that core effort."
He says nothing can replace "door-to-door neighborhood canvassing and getting on the phone to contact voters on a one-to-one basis."
Colorado state Rep. Dan Pabon, who is a Democrat and is volunteering for the Obama campaign, agrees. "You have to have the person-to-person at the door or on the phone. Someone who shares the last name or has the same look as the person at the door they're knocking on. That resonates with people because that says it's not just someone in Washington trying to push the issues. It's about the local folks who look and act like me and are facing the same issues as I do."
Historically, most Latino voters have leaned Democratic, but not all of them. And the number willing to switch back and forth between parties seems to be growing. While the president is expected to win the Hispanic vote, Moreno said, "the question is by what margin. He has to pretty much be within the margin he won last time, which was about two-thirds of all Hispanic votes."
George W. Bush took 44 percent of the Hispanic vote on his way to victory in 2004. Sen. John McCain only won 41 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2008, contributing to his loss to Barack Obama.
Moreno said this year, "I think for Republicans to win the presidency they have to do 35 percent of the Hispanic vote"
The results of the 2010 midterm elections gave the GOP hope. That year, the number of Latino voters who showed up at the polls was down significantly from 2008, hurting Democrats more than Republicans.
At the same time, Latino Republican candidates won significant statewide victories: Marco Rubio became one of Florida's U.S. senators, Brian Sandoval became governor of Nevada, and Susana Martinez became the first Hispanic female governor in U.S. history when she was elected to the office in New Mexico.
Chairman Call said those victories should not come as a surprise because, "Many of the (Republican) values and principles, especially with respect to entrepreneurship and hard work and a commitment to faith and to family, are deeply rooted in Hispanic culture."
Pabon claims his party's values are most in line with those of Latinos. "Whether that be making sure that we have a safety net for the unemployed, making sure that we have jobs in place for those who need to go back to work, those are values that resonate with Hispanics and I think the Democrats have the upper hand at this point."
Latino voters in Miami told Fox News they definitely plan to vote this year, but five out of the six people interviewed said they still hadn't made up their minds whom to support.
Sanchez told Fox News: "As of now I haven't decided which one, for the economy, is the best. I'm still deciding."
"I am still listening to what they say," Diaz said. "I am registered Republican but I am leaning Democratic."
One thing they all agreed on is what they consider to be the number one issue in this election. The economy.
"Definitely employment rates, I can't stand all my friends saying they don't have jobs, so I want to see more jobs out there," Maggie Diaz, a Cuban- and Chilean-American, said.
Armando Paz added: "I'm fiscally conservative so budget issues are one of my most important things. I think perhaps the Hispanic vote, they're going to be like any other American. It's monetary and fiscal issues."
All expressed pride and satisfaction at belonging to the potentially most-sought after voter demographic in 2012.
"Hispanics usually don't feel like they have that much of a voice in America," explained Diaz. "So it's really interesting, we'll see how that works out."
"The Hispanic vote can be symbolized as a tug-of-war," according to Miranda. "We're right in the middle and whichever side tugs us the most is going to win."