Maria Marquez told the pollster who called in late June that if the November election were held that day, she would vote for Republican Meg Whitman for governor.
Now she thinks she might prefer someone else. But she doesn't know much about Democrat Jerry Brown, whose name, like Whitman's, didn't leap to mind at first.
"Maybe it was because she's a woman?" Marquez said, pondering why she told the Field Poll she favored Whitman.
A U.S. citizen for three years — and a former illegal immigrant who received amnesty in 1986 — Marquez isn't just another vote up for grabs this November.
The 47-year-old Los Angeles working mother belongs to an increasingly key California voter group: Latinos, who political consultants say are now too numerous for statewide candidates to antagonize or ignore.
Latinos represent 21 percent of the state electorate, compared with 10 percent in 1990. Two years ago, they made up 18 percent of the general-election vote.
Like Marquez, about one-third of Latino registered voters are immigrants. Two-thirds of those most likely to vote live in Los Angeles, Orange or San Diego counties and the Inland Empire.
In 1994, Republican Gov. Pete Wilson — now chairing Whitman's campaign — championed an effort to deny public services to illegal immigrants with Proposition 187. Since then, California Latino voters have tended to prefer Democrats for governor, U.S. Senate and president by an average 46 points over Republicans, a Field Poll analysis found. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is the only exception.
The Public Policy Institute of California estimates that 63 percent of likely Latino voters are Democrats; 19 percent are Republicans; and 16 percent are independents.
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