The historic Nov. 4th presidential election is less than two months away, and a monumental battle is heating up in a few crucial swing states, as some nine million Latino voters prepare to cast their ballot, which could be the deciding factor for an Obama win.

Latinos are the fastest growing minority group in the U.S. at 15 percent of the population and represent nine percent of eligible voters. But many agree the Latino vote could be the key bloc that could lead to an Obama victory, especially in battleground states where Latinos make up at least 10 percent of the voting population. With roots in different countries, main Latino voting blocs are among Mexican American, Puerto Rican and Cuban American communities.

A recent report by pollster Sergio Bendixen for the New Democratic Network (NDN), a progressive think tank and advocacy organization, notes that the majority of Latino voters in Colorado, New Mexico, California and Nevada favor Obama over McCain. Latino voters are tied between the two candidates in Florida. Bendixen’s group interviewed 2,000 people in Florida, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada Aug. 6-14.

Latino voters represent 35 percent of the electorate in New Mexico, 11 percent in Colorado, 12 percent in Nevada and 14 percent in Florida. According to the poll Obama is expected to win the majority of Latino voters in California, which is the state with the largest Latino population. McCain will probably carry Texas, the second largest Latino populated state, where a significant number of Latinos vote Republican.

The poll reveals the following:

In New Mexico, Obama leads McCain 56 percent to 23 percent among Latino voters. Among non-Latino voters McCain leads 50 percent to 34 percent.

In Colorado, Obama has a 56 percent lead over McCain’s 26 percent among Latinos. And among non-Latino voters Obama has a narrow 45 percent lead over McCain’s 41 percent.

In Nevada, Obama leads McCain at 62 percent to 20 percent among Latinos. Yet McCain leads among non-Latino voters at 46 percent to 37 percent.

Jose Laluz is the chairperson for Latinos for Obama and is campaigning in Colorado and New Mexico registering, educating and mobilizing voters until Election Day. He is also the director of the Leadership Academy with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Union. Laluz spoke with the World during an AFL-CIO labor forum at the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

“Well over 60 percent of Latino voters are supporting Obama – closer to 66 percent now,” Laluz said. “The right wing is pulling all its dirty tricks even in the Latino community. We all realize that Bush used appeals to ‘family values,’ religion and the sanctity of marriage, etc. to get white workers and Reagan Democrats to back him last time,” he said. “Well they are using the same stuff, the same tactics in the Latino communities. When you combine this with their attention on swing states we find they are waging an especially big push against Obama in the Mexican and Chicano communities in Colorado and New Mexico,” added Laluz.

“They spread their lies in Spanish – just as well as they spread them in English,” said Laluz, describing TV and newspaper ads for McCain in Western states.

Laluz said the Obama campaign is working in both New Mexico and Colorado, among other states, telling Latino voters about McCain’s terrible stands on the economy and about the horrible role Republicans have played and continue to play on immigration.

According to the poll, 52 percent of likely Latino voters in New Mexico and Colorado feel Obama has a better stance on immigration. In Nevada 60 percent feel the same, whereas in Florida 42 percent favor Obama compared to 37 percent for McCain on the issue.

“We are showing how the companies and outfits that exploit Latino workers are the people behind McCain,” said Laluz. Between now and Nov. 4, Laluz said the Obama campaign is registering voters in New Mexico and Colorado and developing lists of tens of thousands of Latino supporters for Obama. “Those lists will constitute the people we bring out on Election Day,” he said.

President Bush won 40 percent of the Latino vote in 2004, a key factor in his win. Even though John Kerry lost Ohio then, many Democrats feel if Kerry had won Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado, he would be president today. Things have changed since then and the margin of victory is in the Latino vote, particularly in these states, respectively, Democrats say. Polls across the country concur and find that Latinos are fed up with the Bush administration and the Republican Party represented by McCain and see Obama as the person to change course for the better.

Matt Barreto, a University of Washington political scientist, told USA Today that he predicts a record-breaking turnout of more than 9 million Latino voters this year compared with 7.6 million in 2004.

Tiffany Fiser is the AFL-CIO Labor 2008 coordinator in New Mexico for the 1st congressional district and has been canvassing six days a week since the primaries ended. She has been knocking on the doors of union households for Obama, the congressional race and Tom Udall’s run for U.S. Senate there. Many voters she comes across are Latinos.

“We’re seeing across the board that people are hurting when it comes to paying their mortgages, affording gas prices or the lack of health care,” said Fiser. “They do understand the difference between the candidates and labor households are really tired and they want a change,” she said.

Fiser added that most people have a deep understanding about how the White House and Congress affect their daily lives.

“I truly believe that New Mexico will go for Obama and we will win because our unions, community organizations and volunteers on the ground working here did our part to win,” said Fiser.

plozano@pww.org

John Wojcik contributed to this story.

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