Minority voters could swing key states

The old steel town, 100 miles south of Denver, is still true to its blue collar roots, even though the mill was years ago turned into a museum.

"The people here aren't rich or powerful, many of them never even voted before, but these are the people we'll thank when Barack wins in November," he told ABCNews.com.

Torres, 53, is a retired state employee who volunteers for Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign, canvassing the town's largely Hispanic neighborhoods, registering voters and encouraging them to support the Democrats on Election Day.

In several closely fought states, like Colorado, the campaigns -- particularly Obama's -- are hoping that blocs of ethnic minority voters, like those being courted by Torres, will put them over the top.

Obama has made no secret that his strategy to become president involves winning the Western states of Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico. All are swing states with large Hispanic populations, and all voted for President Bush in 2004.

In each of those states, Obama currently leads by a small margin. If Obama can carry those three states plus all of the states John Kerry won in 2004, he will secure 272 electoral votes, just over the 270 needed to become president.

Minority voting blocs are also being fought over in other states that could be decisive on Nov. 4.

In Florida, the Democrats are working to flip normally GOP-leaning Cuban Americans, while Republicans are trying to capitalize on the unease of some Jewish voters about Obama.

Black voters are expected to turn out in unprecedented numbers, potentially shifting the balance in such Republican strongholds as North Carolina.

Any one of these key states could potentially make the difference in the election.

Those who doubt the power of minority voters, particularly in the West, need look no further than Bush's wins there in 2004, says Frederico Pena, Obama's national campaign chair, who served as secretary of transportation and energy under Clinton and was the first Hispanic mayor of Denver.

3 Million Hispanics Expected to Vote for the First Time

"The lead Obama is showing in the polls in Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico is absolutely attributable to Hispanic voters. Just as Bush made the argument that he won those swing states because he did so well with Hispanics -- getting about 40 percent of the Hispanic vote -- the same applies to Barack," Pena said.

In Colorado, Obama is leading McCain 52 to 43 percent, in Nevada 51 to 47, and in New Mexico, 53 to 40, according to polls compiled by ABC News.

"The group that tilts and selects a winner in close statewide elections in the West is the Hispanic vote, every time," Pena said.

Close to 3 million Hispanic Americans will vote for the first time in this election, according to Efrain Escobedo, senior director of civic engagement at the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO).

"We are going to see the largest turnout of Latino registered voters in history. According to a NALEO poll in mid-September, 90 percent of registered Latino voters said they planned to vote. When Bush broke 40 percent of the Latino vote in 2004, it proved that Latinos are an integral part of the electoral map and they've grown since then," Escobedo said.

According to U.S. Census figures from 2000, Hispanics make up 17 percent of Colorado's population, 42 percent of New Mexico's population, and almost 20 percent of Nevada's population.

Getting their support and getting them to vote are not the same thing, and Obama has mobilized people like Torres in Pueblo to make sure they get to the polls.

"I go door to door, canvassing everyday, mostly to Hispanic people on the lower east side of town. Some of the homes I've gone into I wouldn't put my dog in," Torres told ABCNews.com. "This is what some people have come down to, living in hovels. American citizens shouldn't have to live this way and they're fired up. In this economy it doesn't take much to convince people they need to make a change."

Several Florida Groups That Could Make the Difference

Florida polls indicate that the two candidates are in a dead heat with the Democrat showing a slight 49 to 46 lead, according to the latest Time/CNN poll.

"The race is very, very close. Florida has a history of tight elections. 2000 wasn't a fluke," said Lance deHaven-Smith, professor of public administration and policy at Florida State University, referring to the dispute over "hanging chad" ballots that had to be decided by the Supreme Court.

"A small shift can make a huge difference, and it could very well come down to one group or another making the difference," deHaven-Smith said.

Both campaigns are looking at the 833,000 Cuban-Americans and the 800,000 Jewish voters in Florida as the groups that could tilt the state in their favor.

DeHaven-Smith said he expected Jewish voters "not to deviate from the typical Democrat vote," but many Jewish-Americans in Florida say they remain undecided.

"I have always voted Democratic, but I have real reservations about Obama that have nothing to do with outlandish smears or his race," said Susan Cohen, 72, a retired New York City school teacher who moved to Florida in 2004 and is Jewish.

"I'm worried he is inexperienced, and I'm not entirely convinced he is as committed to Israel as his predecessors. But, I can't imagine voting for a pro-life candidate, and with my pension in the shape that it is, I don't know what do," she said. "It is not just me. A lot of the life-long and Jewish Democrats I know say the same thing."

DeHaven-Smith said Democrats are also targeting younger Cuban-Americans whose families have traditionally voted Republican.

"Cubans have always been the base for Republicans in Southeast Florida, but we're seeing a generational shift. Younger voters, many of them first-time voters, are moving away from the Republicans."

The growing population of non-Cuban Hispanics has also become a growing force in Florida.

"The state is clearly very much in play. Both candidates are focusing on central Florida - Tampa and Orlando ... Orange County voted Republican in every election from 1948 to 2004, but then flipped because of an influx of Puerto Rican and Mexicans," deHaven-Smith said.

Blacks Could Turn North Carolina From Red to Blue

North Carolina presents another potential opportunity for the Democrats to harness minority voters and flip a state from red to blue.

The latest CNN/ Time poll puts Obama and McCain at a tie of 49 to 49, in North Carolina, a state that has voted Republican in every election since 1980.

Registration among black voters has increased by 141,000 in North Carolina since the beginning of the year, increasing their share from 19 percent to 21 percent, according to Ferrel Guillory, director of the Program on Public Life at the University of North Carolina, who studies voting trends in the state.

Obama absolutely needs the support of black voters to win the state, but he needs white voters, too.

"Black voters [are an] essential part of the Democratic coalition. No Democrat can win without 90 percent of the black vote. But there are a lot of Democratic candidates who have gotten 90 percent of black voters, but haven't won. For a Democratic candidate to win, he has got to get a lot of white votes, too," he said.

                   Political blogs | Politics main page | RSS feeds
              Slideshow archive | ABC13 wireless | Help solve crimes
Copyright © 2023 KTRK-TV. All Rights Reserved.