Elections

Latinos still undecided in N.C. Senate race, poll finds

Sen. Kay Hagan (left), D-N.C., and North Carolina Republican Senate candidate Thom Tillis (right), shake hands as Libertarian Party Senate candidate Sean Haugh (center) looks on prior to a live televised debate at WECT studios in Wilmington, N.C. on Oct. 9, 2014. (Gerry Broome/AP Photo/Pool)
Sen. Kay Hagan (left), D-N.C., and North Carolina Republican Senate candidate Thom Tillis (right), shake hands as Libertarian Party Senate candidate Sean Haugh (center) looks on prior to a live televised debate at WECT studios in Wilmington, N.C. on Oct. 9, 2014. (Gerry Broome/AP Photo/Pool) AP

Nearly half of the registered 125,000 Latino voters in North Carolina remain undecided in the crucial Senate race between U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan and state House Speaker Thom Tillis. And yet just one out of three Latino voters has been contacted by a campaign or political party, according to a new poll of registered Latino voters.

The authors say the findings of the poll, by public opinion research firm Latino Decisions, illustrate a missed opportunity by the candidates to reach voters in one of the most closely watched Senate races in the country.

While Latinos tend to vote Democratic _ and indeed Hagan held a lead among voters who’ve made a choice _ neither party seems to be held in high regard, the poll found. Fifty-eight percent of Latino voters felt Republicans didn’t care for them or took them for granted and 14 percent felt the party is hostile to Latinos. Meanwhile, fifty-four percent of Latino voters felt Democrats took them for granted, the poll found.

Among those who responded, 40 percent said they would vote for Hagan and 15 percent said they planned to vote for Tillis, according to the poll, which has a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points. Forty-five percent said they were undecided. The poll was conducted in Spanish and English.

Immigration is ranked as the top issue among 33 percent of Latino voters in the state, according to the poll. It was followed by unemployment, education and the economy. Also important are minimum wage, the environment and health care.

Neither party has made immigration a major part of its campaign. Hagan did support a bipartisan immigration overhaul that included stronger border security and a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented people. But she also publicly opposed President Barack Obama’s efforts to issue an executive order that would expand the amount of undocumented immigrants who could remain and work legally in the United States. Tillis opposes any path to citizenship and has called for a tighter border.

Tillis’ campaign is working with bilingual volunteers and distributing campaign materials in Spanish. Campaign officials didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

Sadie Weiner, Hagan’s campaign spokeswoman, said the campaign is reaching out to voters in every community. She said Hagan has demonstrated her support for a good immigration policy and proven she’s willing to work across the aisle with Republicans.

“Kay supported common-sense immigration reform last year that passed the Senate with the help of Republicans like John McCain and Marco Rubio, and she believes that the House should stop playing politics and take up that bill,” she said by email.

Millions of dollars in television ads have already been spent on a campaign that has national implications. The winner would help determine whether Republicans or Democrats control the U.S. Senate.

In North Carolina, Latinos may be one of the fastest growing voter blocs in the state, but they still make up less than 2 percent of the states nearly 6.6 million voters. Catawba College political science professor Michael Bitzer said any group can make a difference in such a tight race, but he noted that other key voter blocs remain much larger. More than half of North Carolina’s electorate are women, and 22 percent are African American.

“Latinos certainly are reliable Democratic voters nationally, but here in North Carolina they’re such a small percentage of the electorate that perhaps they haven’t garnered the attention needed by the campaigns,” he said.

Latino turnout is another question. Nearly 80 percent of participants in the Latino Decisions poll said they’re likely to vote on Election Day, but history indicates otherwise. Less than 20 percent of Latino voters in the state cast a ballot in the last two midterm elections in 2006 and 2010.

Local and national groups have complained that Latino voters who would otherwise vote Democratic were disappointed when Obama decided to delay an executive order that would allow more undocumented immigrants to remain in the country legally.

Jess George, executive director of Charlotte’s Latin American Coalition, said actions speak louder than words and many Latinos feel their vote is being taken for granted.

“This is a growing population and we have a long memory,” George said.

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