Jack Tame: Foolish to ignore Latino vote

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Latinos such as Victor and Angel tend to vote Democrat.
Latinos such as Victor and Angel tend to vote Democrat.

Victor and Angel are hermanos. Brothers in every sense, they spend most of their lives with their immediate family running a humble greengrocery in New York's Spanish Harlem.

It's a busy place; they're always lugging boxes and writing out price tags on torn bits of cardboard. Mangoes are irresistibly cheap and the shelves stock the spoils of Mexico: ripe nopales (cactus), aloe, sweet tamarind with chilli and plump green avocados.

"Hola amigo," the brothers say whenever I come down from my apartment above.

"What's up?"

"Ah, amigo ... " Angel will shrug and smile and lift a box of onions. "Mucho trabajo, poco dinero." Lots of work. Little money.

It's the life for which the brothers and their family left Ecuador. Like many millions of immigrants from Latin America, they came north for the cliched but legitimate American dream. And the populace continues to swell.

About 21 million Latinos will be eligible to vote next week, a powerful section of US voters that seems misleading to label a "minority".

Despite a Latino unemployment rate 2 per cent above the national average, Barack Obama is polling as the candidate of choice for 70 per cent of Latino voters. The impact of that support won't be fully realised until next week, and Latino voting turnout has been poor in past elections. But, for Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney, a mobilised Latino base could be the difference between victory and defeat in numerous important states.

"I absolutely believe that Latino voters can be one of the big reasons we win this election," Obama's campaign manager Jim Messina told the New York Times.

The polling chasm is all the more notable when you consider that in the past the Republican Party has enjoyed moderate Latino support. George W. Bush took 44 per cent of Latino votes in 2004, and John McCain took 41 per cent four years later. Mitt Romney, however, is polling at a measly 25 per cent.

Undoubtedly, some of Obama's popularity stems from his support for a diluted version of the "Dream" act. Passed under Presidential executive power and shrewdly timed for the election, it allows the children of illegal immigrants to stay and live legally in the United States.

But, reflecting upon their Presidential campaign, Republican strategists have themselves to blame. Romney's painful "Juntos" (Together) TV advertisements are so wooden and hurried as to be labelled neglectful by some Latino commentators.

Other Romney ads have clumsy language translations, and Romney says he'd repeal and replace Obama's executive immigration order, though he offers few specifics on what he'd introduce in its place.

Above all, though, the front line of the Republican Party doesn't reflect the increasing diversity of modern US society. Fifty million Latinos live in the US, and for the first time this year "minority" births in the US outnumbered those of white Americans.

Enormous diversity is the true wealth of this country. Yet, at times during the Republican Party convention, it was a genuine challenge to spot a face in the crowd that wasn't middle-aged and white.

Angel and Victor don't consider themselves particularly political. They can't vote this time but by 2016 they'll be eligible.

"What will happen then?" I asked Victor.

"Easy," he said. "I'll vote Democrats."

- Herald on Sunday

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