Political Parties Woo Key Hispanic Vote in North Carolina

The Democratic and Republican Parties are fighting it out for the Hispanic vote in North Carolina, considered a key state in the November elections to determine who will be in the White House for the next four years.

The reelection campaign for President Barack Obama staged a rally in North Carolina to launch the movement dubbed Latinos for Obama ¡Yo Cuento! (I Count!).

"You will make all the difference in winning this crucial state for the president - four years ago you helped send him to the White House and that's why I ask for your support today, because this is the most important election of our time," Katherine Archuleta, national political director of Obama for America, said at the event.

Archuleta visited Charlotte, site of the Democratic National Convention in September, for the first time this Thursday.

The director recalled the achievements of the Obama presidency, including the naming of the first Latino to the Supreme Court, to the more than 150 people gathered in the gallery of a local Hispanic artist.

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"We will recruit volunteers and we'll go out and help voters register to get across our message that we must all go to the polls in November and must convince others to do so as well," Olma Echeverri, chair of Hispanic-American Democrats of NC, told Efe.

Both Democrats and Republicans have acknowledged the importance of the growing Hispanic voting bloc in North Carolina, which according to figures of the State Electoral Board, amounts to 91,173 registered voters.

Of those, 43.8 percent are Democrats, 18.5 percent Republicans and 37 percent independents.

Hispanics represent a mere 1.4 percent of North Carolina's nearly 6.3 million voters.

An estimated 120,000 Hispanics in North Carolina are eligible to vote, but many have not registered.

The Hispanic population in North Carolina grew 11.1 percent over the last decade to 800,120, which represents 8.4 percent of its residents, according to Census figures.

For Gibbs Knotts, professor of political science at Western Carolina University, the Hispanic impact has the "potential to change the state's political environment in the near future."

In 2008 some 68,970 were registered to vote, of whom 20,468 cast ballots in the presidential elections.

In the race for the White House four years ago, Obama won North Carolina by a scant 14,177 votes, becoming the first Democrat since 1976 to gain the state's 15 electoral votes.

A post-electoral analysis by the Immigration Policy Center in Washington showed that the Hispanic vote was "indispensable" for the president's victory in the Tar Heel state.

Republicans are also out to woo the Hispanic vote here and the Republican National Committee has designated Neri Martínez to lead the effort.

"Martinez will organize community boards, roundtable discussions and registration days to convey the Republican message about economic security to the community," RNC spokeswoman Alexandra Franceschi told Efe.

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