Press Release

Hispanics reshape politics out west

photoThis year's most-prized voting block could swing the election

By Tom Brokaw
Anchor & Nightly News Managing Editor
NBC News

Andres Ramirez, a 26-year-old Las Vegas native, leads 200 volunteers from "Voices for Working Families" to get out the Latino vote.

"When the race is close and competitive, I think that every new voter we're registering will make a huge impact on the presidential election," he says.

The target? More than 5,000 new residents who arrive each month in Nevada's Clark County, attacted by jobs in the services and construction sectors.

Since 2000, Nevada has added nearly 100,000 Latinos to its population, and registered Democrats now outnumber Republicans. The state's five electoral votes could be the jackpot in the presidential election.

The increasing number of Latinos in Western states — immigrants and second generation — is changing the western political landscape.

New Mexico's Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson, born in Mexico, says the Democrats can't take them for granted, especially the younger Latinos, or Hispanics.

"For the young Hispanics it's not just immigration and civil rights — it's education, health care, entrepeneurship, and home ownership. We believe that by dealing with those issues instead of just treating Hispanics like an interest group that we can get them," says Gov. Richardson.

The race is especially close in New Mexico, with President Bush and Sen. Kerry fighting to win Latino voters and five electoral votes. Bush lost the state in 2000 — by only 366 votes. This time it is expected to be just about as close.

"It's a big election coming up and we are the ones that are going to decide who is going to be the next president of the United States, and I feel we need to get out and vote," says Erick Schafler, a volunteer working to register Hispanics in New Mexico.

"I think there's a great proportion of Latino families that are saying, 'wait a minute, let's talk substance. We're important. Show us what you're going to be able to do for us,'" says Dr. Christine Sierra, a professor of political science and Latino studies at the University of  New Mexico.

Call them Hispanics or call them Latinos, but in this election year call them important — and even more important in elections to come.

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