Julian Castro, the mayor of San Antonio, Texas, has the role of keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention tonight. He has an even more important function: validator.
Castro, 37, a Stanford University and Harvard Law School graduate who is the first Hispanic convention keynoter, was re- elected last year to a second term with 82 percent of the vote in a city of 1.36 million people -- 63.2 percent of whom are Latino, according to the census.
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“The main takeaway is, in order for Obama to win, Latinos have to vote,” said Paul Lopez, 34, a Denver city councilman who attended a Hispanic convention caucus session yesterday with Barack Obama’s campaign and party officials ahead of the convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The urgency surrounding the Hispanic vote is heightened in part because Obama is losing ground among working-class white men, those without college degrees. Hispanics may account for 8.9 percent of the U.S. electorate in November, up from 7.4 percent in 2008, according to a report last month by the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington-based research institute. The group also projected turnout among eligible Hispanic voters at 52.7 percent, up from 49.9 percent four years ago.
Latinos could comprise 14 percent to 18 percent of the electorate in the battleground states of Colorado, Florida and Nevada, said Juan Sepulveda, senior adviser for Hispanic affairs for the Democratic National Committee.
Both parties have sought to showcase Latinos during their conventions.
In addition to Castro, who spent yesterday afternoon practicing his address, Democrats tapped Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa as convention chairman, and Hispanic delegates in Charlotte will represent their largest presence at a Democratic or Republican convention, Sepulveda said.
Republicans featured Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez and Ted Cruz, who is backed by the anti-tax Tea Party movement and who is expected to win an open Senate seat in Texas.
On policy, Obama is pointing to his expansion of health- care coverage and his order this summer ending deportations of undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children -- two policy stances that Republican challenger Mitt Romney opposes -- to attract support. The re-election campaign also is calling attention to Romney’s support for policies that will encourage “self-deportation” by illegal immigrants.
Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Romney’s immigration stance will play to the president’s advantage in battleground states with large or growing Latino populations.
“The extreme nature of his position leaves not only many in the Latino community, but members of the business community and middle-class Americans wondering why he would not support comprehensive immigration reform,” as a matter of economic as well as social policy, Psaki said.
Obama didn’t use his first term to push legislation giving millions of undocumented residents a path to citizenship, after promoting the idea in his 2008 campaign.
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, a Republican who has pushed his own party to appeal more to Latino voters, said Obama’s omission may cost him turnout, especially if Latinos see it as a “cynical” strategy to keep immigration alive as a “wedge” issue.
Hispanics favor Obama over Romney, 61 percent to 29 percent, according to Gallup poll data compiled Aug. 6-26, with 66 percent saying they would definitely vote.
Over the same period of time, Gallup found white non- Hispanics favor Romney over Obama, 55 percent to 38 percent, with 82 percent saying they would definitely vote.
At the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, some delegates encouraged Romney to move to the center on immigration reform before November, saying it’s costing him support from Latinos who might otherwise support him because of his message on the economy, abortion and other issues.
“It’s definitely a wedge issue,” Raul Riesgo, 40, a Republican delegate from Pico Rivera, California, said of immigration. “It’s an emotional issue for a lot of Latinos in this country. Twelve million undocumented immigrants cannot continue to live in the shadows. Comprehensive immigration reform does need to be put on the table.”
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