Elections

Latino groups say their vote could prove pivotal in Senate races

Clarissa Martinez-De-Castro, an official with the National Council of La Raza, discusses Latino voting issues for the upcoming election, during a panel discussion Monday Sept. 29, 2014, in Washington. In the background is Matt Barreto, a researcher with Latino Decisions. (Chris Adams/McClatchy)
Clarissa Martinez-De-Castro, an official with the National Council of La Raza, discusses Latino voting issues for the upcoming election, during a panel discussion Monday Sept. 29, 2014, in Washington. In the background is Matt Barreto, a researcher with Latino Decisions. (Chris Adams/McClatchy)

Latino voters could play a pivotal role in several of the tight Senate races – including the newly competitive race in Kansas – although there is no sense yet how strong turnout among the population will be, experts said Monday.

In a panel discussion organized by the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic advocacy group in Washington, two researchers for Latino Decisions zeroed in on seven Senate races that are highly competitive – and could determine whether the Senate tilts Republican or stays in Democratic hands.

“There are places where Latinos can influence the outcome, but the turnout rates are going to be critical,” said Matt Barreto, co-founder of Latino Decisions, a polling and research firm.

While the share of the Latino vote in many of the Senate states is small, the potential victory margins are equally small.

The potential impact of Latino voters has been a focus of attention in recent weeks, particularly since President Barack Obama delayed any executive action to change the immigration system until after the election.

Part of Obama’s motivation, analysts said, was to help Democrats in tight races this fall – essentially believing it was more important to avoid angering conservatives than to motivate Latinos.

A recent analysis by the Pew Research Center found Latinos were a tiny fraction of the electorate in key states: Of nine tight races examined, Latinos make up 5 percent or less of eligible voters in eight of the nine states. The exception in their analysis was Colorado, where Latinos are about 14 percent of eligible voters.

The impact of Latino voters in a tight race for Senate in Colorado has gotten attention, Barreto acknowledged Monday. But the races in North Carolina, Michigan and Georgia also could be strongly impacted by Latino voters. In each of those states, the share of registered voters that is Latino is close to what polls show as a possible margin of victory.

And he said Kansas might be added to that list. In Kansas, incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts, a Republican, is in a pitched battle with an independent, Greg Orman; the official Democrat in the race has dropped out. Real Clear Politics, a key election tracker, rates the race a toss-up, and the most recent polls have Orman up by 5 or 6 percentage points.

In Kansas, Barreto said, 10 percent of all people are Latino and 5.5 percent of the eligible electorate is Latino.

“This could be the newest Latino-influence state, as the election has gotten very close,” he said. “What is happening there? Are the campaigns even talking to Latinos?”

Barreto and Gary Segura, also of Latino Decisions, have a book coming out this week on the impact of Latinos on U.S. politics.

Barreto and Segura spoke at a panel discussion organized to discuss the impact of immigration and other economic and political issues on the November election, which also includes pivotal House of Representatives and gubernatorial races in which Latinos could play an important role.

For the most part, the feeling among panelists was that politicians were not reaching out to Latinos – and that they were far more likely to knock on doors or make calls to non-Latino voters.

“Politicians are giving in to the politics of fear,” said Clarissa Martinez-De-Castro, deputy vice president of the National Council of La Raza. “Where we find ourselves right now means that they’re just not afraid enough of us, yet.”

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