POLITICS

California braces for turbulent, impassioned final stretch ahead of June 7th primary

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 1:  People wave flags and cheer over the 101 freeway near the Metropolitan Detention Center during one of several May Day marches on May 1, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. Immigrants, union members, workers and supporters are participating in the annual marches in downtown Los Angeles to call for greater rights for immigrants and improved conditions for workers.  (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 1: People wave flags and cheer over the 101 freeway near the Metropolitan Detention Center during one of several May Day marches on May 1, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. Immigrants, union members, workers and supporters are participating in the annual marches in downtown Los Angeles to call for greater rights for immigrants and improved conditions for workers. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)  (2016 Getty Images)

Home to the nation’s largest Hispanic population, it is no surprise that California has become the hottest battleground in the ideological war that has split the country between pro and against Donald Trump, pro and against a humanitarian immigration reform, pro and against “the wall.”

The outspoken candidate stirs heated passions among Latinos from both Democrats and Republicans here, even when he clinched the GOP nomination way ahead the June 7 primary.

“When you go out there as a presentational candidate and base your campaign on rhetoric that is fundamentally offensive to them, then it should come as no surprise that the community is going to mobilize and vote in earnest against you,” said Reed Galen, a GOP consultant who has served as deputy campaign manager for John McCain (2008) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (2006).

More than 3.8 million Latinos will cast ballots in November, according to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, or NALEO, marking a 22 percent increase from the 2012 election and a 12 percent increase in the Latino share of the vote from that year.

California has the highest number of Latinos in the country, many of whom are of Mexican origin. According to the Pew Research Center, 82 percent of Hispanic eligible voters in the state have a Mexican background.

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The Mexican and Latino group have historically had the lowest turnout of all ethnic and racial groups in California. Yet Trump’s remarks about illegal immigration, his plans to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and his statements referring to some Mexicans as rapist and criminals have given way to a significantly higher political involvement.    

Many groups are taking part in the efforts to get more Latinos interested in the voting process.

“It’s really about getting as many people informed about their ability to register to vote and then to go out and vote,” said Helen Iris Torres, Executive Director and CEO of the non-partisan organization, Hispanas Organized for Political Equality (HOPE).

She explained the group – which aims to empower Latina women into positions of leadership – is turning its focus toward encouraging higher voter engagement as the election draws near.

“A lot of our work moving forward is going to be through social media,” Torres told Fox News Latino. “We have the HOPEVOTE2016 hashtag and we’re tracking how many people click on that and on to the Secretary of State website.”

Speaking at a State of Latinos forum that took place in San Francisco earlier this month, Fernando Guerra, professor of Political Science and Chicano Studies at Loyola Marymount University, commented on the high voter turnout expected in this year’s presidential election and said much of it is going to be “driven by Latinos who are going to go out and vote against Trump.”

And while groups are mobilizing citizens to get registered and vote, there are also the campaigns from the two Democratic hopefuls — both of whom claim that a higher voter turnout will make it much less likely for a Trump presidency to occur.

Bernie Sanders has been blasting this message during his rally sprint in Southern California over the last week, while Hillary Clinton is focusing her efforts on taking on Trump exclusively.

After his landslide win in New York, 16,000 Democrats registered in California — compared to only 8,000 Republicans. The month before, Trump’s Super Tuesday wins encouraged 14,000 Democratic registrations vs. 4,000 Republican ones, according to Political Data Inc.

The effort of HOPE and other non-partisan organizations to get more Latinos involved in the political process seems to have paid off, with more than 304,000 newly registered voters in Los Angeles County alone between April 6 and the May 23 registration deadline. And report after report shows that the Hispanic population is driving a large chunk of that number.

As the primary approaches, many Latino-focused groups are also working on providing additional resources and education for the Latino population that is already registered and involved, but that may need additional assistance with the rest of the process.

Amanda Bosquez, Director of Media Relations at NALEO, said they have set up a number of resources intended to assist first-time voters, including their 1-888-VEY-VOTA hotline.

“It’s a bilingual toll-free hotline that voters in California or anywhere in the country can call to get information on every aspect of the electoral process,” she told FNL, adding that tech-savvy younger Latinos can also access information through text messaging by texting VOTE (or VOTA) to 21333.

Another big focus for NALEO during the registration process was geared toward Latinos who registered as No Party Preference (NPP) voters, a group that spiked over the last few months.

“We learned there are more than 1 million Latino voters that are registered as No Party Preference in the state,” said Angelica Peña, NALEO’s CA Deputy Director of Civic Engagement. “That’s 1 in 4 when you look at the entire registered Latino population.”

Mariam Jehangir is a freelance reporter living in Los Angeles.

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