Latino Turnout May Decide Presidential Race in Arizona This Year

In this year's presidential election, some are saying the Republican-tilting state of Arizona could go Democrat for the first time in two decades — and that Latino voters will play a key role in whether that happens.

Latinos make up 22 percent of Arizona's eligible voters, and most lean Democratic. They usually vote at much lower rates than the general electorate. But that has been changing, according to a panel that convened on Tuesday in Phoenix at a live forum that was recorded for broadcast on Public Radio International's The World.

Ben Monterroso, executive director of Mi Familia Vota and one of the panelists, said Latinos in Arizona have become more receptive to get-out-the-vote efforts in recent years.

It started in 2010, Monterroso said, with the passage of SB 1070, also known as the "show me your papers" law.

"I believe SB 1070 woke up the Latino community in Arizona," Monterroso said.

The passage of SB 1070 galvanized Latinos to get involved in the political process. It also led to the creation of One Arizona, a coalition of 14 community organizations working together to register Latinos to vote. This year, One Arizona hoped to register 75,000 new voters. The group surpassed that goal and to date has registered nearly 134,000 new voters – the vast majority of them Latino.

Arizona has voted for the Republican presidential candidate in every election since 1952, with the exception of 1996, when the state went to Bill Clinton.

Angela Kocherga, director of the Borderlands bureau at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, said the probability of the state turning blue this year "depends on who turns out to vote." Kocherga said if Latino voter turnout is high, the state could go to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. 

An estimated 433,000 Latinos in Arizona are projected to cast ballots in November — an 8.25 percent jump from 2012 (400,000) and a whopping 48.9 percent over 2008 (291,000).

Kocherga said organizers on the ground tell her Latinos are motivated to vote this year because of their opposition to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Others say they’re motivated to vote against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was found to racially profile Latinos in traffic stops and immigration patrols by a federal judge.

Statewide polls show Trump and Clinton are neck-and-neck in Arizona. In such a tight race, Latino voters could make the difference. A recent Latino Decisions poll found just 18 percent of Latino voters in Arizona have a favorable view of Trump, while 67 percent have a favorable view of Clinton. 

Kocherga said many Latinos oppose Trump's plan to deport millions of undocumented immigrants and to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. But she also pointed to a recent Arizona Republic/Morrison/Cronkite News poll that found the majority of likely voters in Arizona don't support mass deportations and a border wall. 

"You're seeing an evolution in Arizona when it comes to these very hardline immigration policies," Kocherga said.

Some Latinos in Arizona support Trump's hardline stance on immigration. Alice Lara, a co-host of the radio talk show Chips-n-Salsa (KFNS 1100 AM), is one of them. Lara likes the fact that Trump wants to crack down on illegal immigration and punish those who break the law.

"We have to have rule of law in order to have a country," Lara said.

She added that she believes most Latinos are Republicans, but "they just don’t know it."

Sergio Arellano, strategic initiatives director for the Arizona Republican Party, agreed, saying that many Latinos are aligned with the GOP's values of pro-life, lower taxes, less government, and personal responsibility. The problem, Arellano said, is that Democrats have pushed the narrative that they are the party of the Latinos.

"Because Republicans have bought into that narrative, they say, 'Latinos are going to vote Democrat anyway, so why should I show up?'" Arellano argued.

The son of Mexican immigrants, Arellano says he is working to change that. He's speaking to Latino voters and educating them on what the Republican Party stands for, while also trying to sway them to vote for Trump.

Antonio Valdovinos is doing the same on the Democratic front. He cannot vote because he is undocumented, but that hasn't kept him from getting involved in the political process. Valdovinos, whose parents brought him to the U.S. when he was 2 years old, runs a political organization called La Machine that pays young people to go door to door registering and educating voters about upcoming elections.

Valdovinos said one of the best ways to convince people to register and vote is by making a personal connection and telling them why it's important to vote.

That strategy worked on Cisco Fernandez, an ASU student who attended Tuesday's taping.

Fernandez said he was encouraged to register to vote this year after he met Isela Blanc, who's running for the Arizona House of Representatives.

"It gets me excited to know that I can play a role in this election," Fernandez said.

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