September 23rd, 2008
01:31 PM ET

Battleground: Colorado

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/09/23/art.obama.mccain.split.jpg]

John King | BIO
Chief National Correspondent

After decades as a Democratic organizer and activist, Ramona Martinez is convinced the moment is finally at hand.

“The sleeping giant has finally woken up,” the former Denver city councilwoman and longtime Colorado and national Democratic activist says. “They keep saying, ‘It is the year of the Latinos.’ Well – I think it is this time.”

If so, the fastest growing segment of the American population could have a decisive impact on a remarkably close presidential election, emerging as the potential swing vote in several critical electoral battlegrounds.

Colorado is just one example, and offers a fascinating “ground zero” glimpse in the battle for the Latino vote.

Twenty years ago, in the 1988 presidential elections, Hispanics accounted for 3.7 million votes. In 2004, it was more than twice that – 7.5 million votes. And that number is certain to grow this cycle. Here in Colorado, both parties believe the Latino percentage of the statewide vote will eclipse 10 percent for the first time. (It was eight percent in 2004)

Nationally, Barack Obama leads John McCain 65 percent to 30 percent among Latinos in the latest CNN/Opinion Research Corp. polling, and Democrats believe if those numbers hold, then the Latino vote could prove pivotal here in Colorado, as well as in New Mexico, Nevada, Florida and perhaps even North Carolina, which ranks 11th nationally in its percentage of Latino residents.

The Obama campaign is making an unprecedented outreach effort to register new voters in the Latino community, as well as to keep in touch with supporters through Election Day because Hispanic turnout has often significantly trailed the hopes of community organizers.

Martinez says the Obama effort here in Colorado is expanding as the election draws closer and polls show this state a tossup.

“They just hired another 20 or 30 organizers to do voter registration in key areas,” she told us in an interview at her home. “They just had training. They are paying for the training of those organizers. They are hiring more organizers than I have seen in my lifetime in this state for the Latino vote.”

New citizen Fernando Torres is among the many reasons for Democratic optimism. He will cast his first vote this year, and says Obama will get it because he believes he is more in touch with the struggles of working class voters.

“The economy is very tough,” said Torres, who runs a marble and granite company in Denver. “I don’t make any money,” he said of conditions at the moment, saying business has slowed to the point of just barely being able to pay his bills.

Of McCain, Torres says: “I think he came from rich people.”

Ana Calderon is an insurance saleswoman whose office window has a sign urging Latinos to register and vote. She is a registered Democrat who says she is most likely an Obama voter, but not 100 percent certain just yet.

“He is very smart very intelligent, you know raised by a single mom – I am a single parent myself,” Calderon said between fielding business calls – some in English and some in Spanish. “But yet he is still very inexperienced. I think this is his first year in the Senate if I am not mistaken. And then there is McCain who has been with the government for years, a veteran, a real smart man who would do a good job.”

Walk into a McCain campaign office in Denver, and it is not unusual to hear Spanish language conversations about “La Presidencia.”

The bulk of the Latino outreach out the Republican side, however, is to the south of Denver is more conservative Pueblo County, where the GOP effort has the assistance of a recent convert with a famous name in Colorado politics.

Working the phone bank in Pueblo is Silver Salazar, a Democratic precinct captain in the area for more than two decades and a former Hillary Clinton supporter who says he could not support Obama because he believes he is too liberal and too inexperienced.

“Senator Obama is totally out of touch with the Hispanics,” is Silver Salazar’s take. “On immigration reform, abortion .the war in Iraq. So that made my decision a lot easier.” ….
But his decision to support McCain is a source of some family friction. He has two cousins in the Colorado congressional delegation – Senator Ken Salazar and Representative John Salazar are both Democrats, and both big Obama supporters.

Silver Salazar says it is a friendly competition, and predicts he will be on the winning side in Colorado despite the giant Obama banner hanging from the roof of Senator Salazar’s Pueblo office.
“We will have thanksgiving dinner together next year — maybe not this one,” Silver Salazar said with a smile.

Filed under: John King • Raw Politics
soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. Galy

    Tough the Obama campaign won't admit; at this point, the only way McCain would win this election; it's only if there's a significant racist backlash against Obama. To my opinion, you don't pick an old guy with a bad economic plan, who admits not knowing much about the economy over a young Obama with a better economic plan during these most troubling economic times.

    September 23, 2008 at 8:28 pm |
  2. Jan from Wood Dale IL

    With the increasing numbers these voters drives have been bringing in, have the states been able to verify that all of these people are citizens and are eligible to vote? I don't ask this question out of disrespect for any group, but whenever there is such a surge in voter registration just prior to an election, it has been discovered later that a portion of those who voted did so illegally. For example, 5 different people all using the same name and address, or people using the name and address of someone who is dead.

    September 23, 2008 at 7:43 pm |
  3. Kent, Illinois

    Republicans make me laugh. As an Independent I will be voting for Obama in November. The Latinos I have talked to will as well. I say I laugh at the GOP because their numbers are dwindling. Fear cannot last long in an educated society. We see the lies of the Right and we know they are wrong. Independents are not fooled this year. Minorities need to rise up and show their numbers. This is the time to show how you can be the single most important vote in a Presidential election. Obama will win in November. Let's make it by a landslide...........

    September 23, 2008 at 7:08 pm |
  4. Keith

    I guess, evolutionary-speaking, if we all originated in the continent of africa then we are all african americans.

    September 23, 2008 at 5:14 pm |
  5. Mike in NYC

    To Kent, Illinois, who wrote:

    "Someday all of us will be a nice shade of brown."

    Which would spell the end of "diversity," would it not?

    A stark admission of a rather sinister agenda.

    Are you sure your people will be treated with "respect and equality" when that time comes?

    September 23, 2008 at 4:48 pm |
  6. Kent, Illinois

    The Latino population in my town is growing rapidly. As it is everywhere really. I welcome a day when equality is achieved. That day will come. I hope the Latino vote goes for Obama.

    Mike NY...............Yes, I am white.........when that day comes when white people are the minority, I'm fine with that. I try very hard to treat everyone with respect and equality. You cannot fear the inevitable. Someday all of us will be a nice shade of brown..... 🙂

    September 23, 2008 at 4:30 pm |
  7. Dawnie Larson

    Anyone who thinks McCain is more in touch with the working middle class, than Obama, is truly out of touch...
    John McCain doesn't have a clue about the working class, only says what you want to hear....He is for the rich and always has been..He's a Bush man and as for his VP, her experience could fit on your little finger..Know anything about Alaska?...It's a joke..
    How can anyone that owns 13 cars relate to the working class or doesn't even know how many homes he has..I think not..
    Also how about his statement that he only buys American made cars, but his "collection" says otherwise..
    Oh and yes by the way, Obama owns one car and it's energy efficient...Think about it, folks....

    September 23, 2008 at 4:13 pm |
  8. Dawnie Larson

    Anyone who thinks McCain is more in touch with the working middle class, than Obama, is truly out of touch...
    John McCain doesn't have a clue about the working class, only says what you want to hear....He is for the rich and always has been..He's a Bush man and as for his VP, her experience could fit on your little finger..Know anything about Alaska?...It's a joke..

    September 23, 2008 at 4:05 pm |
  9. Michelle, CA

    It's going to be very interesting to see how it all turns out. If it's anything like in my neck of the woods, McCain is also strongly pushing for the "Latino Vote". His supporters put out pictures of the Virgin Mary and put them next to their booths while they register voters at events with a large latino turnout (no kidding, I even took a pic because I thought it was amusing that they were being so blatant). And I live in an area that has pretty consistently gone to the Republicans, so something tells me McCain's people aren't exactly going to be sleeping over there in Colorado.

    As a Latino voter though, I feel that we're as varied in our opinions as the rest of the country. We don't all feel the same way about immigration, abortion, etc., so I hope they don't forget that.

    September 23, 2008 at 3:07 pm |
  10. Ron Iowa

    Hispanics love McCain because he's white and therefore they feel he must be right...

    September 23, 2008 at 3:06 pm |
  11. Mike in NYC

    "Latinos" (a misnomer, actually) should really thank the White population of this country for standing by and allowing illegal immigrants to flood across its borders, thus swelling their numbers and hence their political power. Quite a gift, I'd say.

    To Kent, Illinois:

    Look at the low-level black/Hispanic race war in LA to see how well "minorities" get along. Short-term, opportunistic alliances will inevitably give way to open hostility, which, as usual, will be blamed on whites.

    BTW, since we've met before, and you've admitted that you're white yourself, will you be happy in 2042 when whites are a minority in this country? Your town, Kewanee, is over 90% white. Something tells me you'll be ill-prepared for the "new America."

    September 23, 2008 at 2:55 pm |
  12. Mary

    Why is the media aloowing the Palin/MaCain camapign to manipulate them? They are eating right out of the palm of their hand.

    September 23, 2008 at 2:52 pm |
  13. Melissa, Los Angeles

    If McCain or Obama panders to the Latino population with relaxing the rules for immigration like they initially wanted to do right before the primaries (that's why I voted for Clinton because she was not as relaxed about it as McCain and Obama are) – they can both forget about my vote. With $100 million in scholarships per year given to illegals in California and the other millions that we the taxpayer are paying for their education in public schools, medical aid and welfare – I've had enough! We're the United States of America and it offends me that politicians are going to select different groups and pander to them just to win a vote. Just because I'm not Latino does it make my thoughts any less than theirs? They should be doing what's right for all and not one segment of society.

    September 23, 2008 at 2:38 pm |
  14. Keith

    Both parties only care about the minority issues until they get elected. Democrats or Republicans, they are both blinded by self-interest, power and ambition.

    September 23, 2008 at 2:36 pm |
  15. Kent, Illinois

    The minority population in this country needs representation in the White House if they want things to improve. The Democrats actually care about the people of this country. Whatever the squabbles between different minorities in this country are, they need to look past them and vote in support of Obama. He is the only candidate that cares about minority issues................

    September 23, 2008 at 2:04 pm |