Voting by Hispanics surged in the last congressional elections, showing strength that could swing this year’s presidential vote in closely contested states like Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico.
A government report released Tuesday shows that 5.6 million Hispanics voted in the 2006 general election, an increase of 18 percent over 2002, the previous year for a federal election without a presidential race on the ballot. That compares to a 7 percent increase among white voters and a 5 percent increase for black voters.
[Luis Vera, general counsel for the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC] said the debate over illegal immigration has energized Hispanic voters, a trend he expects to continue this year.
Hispanics made up only 6 percent of American voters in 2006, according to the report by the Census Bureau. But their numbers are big enough to be decisive in several battleground states, especially in a tight race.
Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Florida all have a significant number of Hispanic voters. President Bush narrowly won all four states in 2004, and they could all be hotly contested this year.
Hispanics, long considered part of the Democratic base, have become swing voters in recent elections. President Bush did well among Hispanic voters in his two presidential victories. But many swung back to the Democrats in 2006, when many Republicans staked out tough positions against illegal immigration. The Democrats regain control of both houses of Congress.
A recent AP-Yahoo News poll showed that Obama leads McCain among Hispanics, 47 percent to 22 percent with 26 percent undecided.
Still, Obama, who is trying to become the first black president, doesn’t have a lock on the Hispanic vote. During the Democratic primary, Hispanics preferred rival Hillary Rodham Clinton to Obama by nearly 2-to-1.
The Census data comes from a national survey which asks 50,000 residents after each federal election whether they were registered to vote and whether they voted. The survey does not ask about candidate preferences or political affiliations.
“Just looking at the demographics, whichever party ends up winning the Latino vote will be the majority party in the 21st century,” Rosenberg [Simon Rosenberg, head of a think tank called NDN, formerly the New Democrat Network] said.
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