Latinos Look to Gain Electoral Influence, Immigration Number One Political Issue

Hispanic Americans are set to increase their political clout at the state and federal level, according to a study from the National Association ion of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) released Tuesday. NALEO Education Fund Executive Director Arturo Vargas says that in several western states, attempting to win statewide races without a well planned Latino voter strategy is now impossible. "(Latino voters) are sophisticated," Vargas said, "They closely follow candidates and they follow campaigns. They reach across party lines and they're willing to support non Hispanic candidates versus Hispanic candidates depending on the circumstances of an issue."

NALEO predicts that there will be 1 million more Latino voters in 2010 than in 2006, when Hispanics cast 5.5 million ballots, and could make up as much as 20% of the vote in some states.

Vargas pointed to Senate and Gubernatorial races in California and Florida as races where a successful Latino strategy will be a key to victory.

NALEO predicts that there will be more Hispanics in the 112th Congress as well. They expect to see one more Democratic and two Republicans in the House. The Senate may double its Hispanic membership, with Florida Republican Marco Rubio joining Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., in the upper chamber.

Immigration is now the number one political issue for Latino voters, topping even the economy and unemployment among the growing voting demographic. Vargas says support for Arizona's controversial immigration law could hurt candidates in southwestern states.