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Hispanic voters gain influence

Sara Burnett
Rocky Mountain News
Vail, CO Colorado
Barry Gutierrez / Rocky Mountain NewsBarack Obama volunteers Freddie Torres, center left, and Fred Trujillo, center right, chat with Ann-Marie Martinez, left, and Chuck Martinez in Pueblo.
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PUEBLO, Colorado – Fred Trujillo and Freddie Torres were pounding the pavement in Dogpatch.

As they tag-teamed a canvass of this heavily Hispanic eastside neighborhood, the volunteers for Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign mostly liked what they heard.

Obama.



Obama.

Obama.



People like Michelle Trujillo, a 21-year-old mother of two who decided to vote for the Illinois senator after watching the Democratic National Convention on television.

“Obama just said a lot of stuff that we wanted to hear,” said Trujillo, who registered to vote during the men’s Tuesday afternoon visit. “A lot needs to change.”

But there also was Ann-Marie Martinez’s parents’ house.



Martinez was born and raised in Dogpatch, and like her parents and two brothers, she’s a Democrat.

Yet with the exception of one brother, the whole family is planning to vote for Sen. John McCain. So is her husband, a registered Republican.

Martinez, who owns her own roofing company, thinks Obama isn’t as patriotic as McCain. Her Catholic, pro-life beliefs align more closely with the Arizona senator, and she relates to his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, whom she calls a fellow “hockey mom.”

Then there’s something else that’s getting under her skin, Martinez said after Trujillo and Torres left.

“They came to Pueblo and these (Obama) guys all thought they were going to get our vote because our skin’s dark,” she said.

“That really bothers me. That bothers me a lot.”

Every vote counts

The Obama campaign says it isn’t taking any vote for granted, and certainly not the Hispanic vote. Neither is McCain, his campaign says.

But Pueblo embodies what the candidates are finding across the country: the fast- growing Hispanic community can’t be pigeon-holed politically.

George W. Bush enjoyed great popularity among Hispanics, while two recent national polls say Hispanics favor Obama over McCain by a 2-1 ratio.

Obama has said Hispanic voters could make the difference in this election, and they are a critical part of his strategy for winning Colorado, as well as states such as New Mexico and Florida.

In 2004, Democrat John Kerry lost Colorado to President Bush by about 100,000 votes.

In August, the Obama campaign said Colorado is home to 100,000 Hispanics who are eligible to vote but not registered. It is looking to them to help Obama win Colorado’s nine electoral votes, although the campaign wouldn’t say Friday how many Hispanics it has registered so far.

Obama spoke Monday in Pueblo, where Hispanics make up about 44 percent of the population.

Today New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who is Hispanic, will stump for Obama in Alamosa, Greeley and Pueblo. His visit follows one last weekend by U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra, a California Democrat.

Sen. Ken Salazar, who was raised in the San Luis Valley, is a frequent campaigner, and former Denver Mayor Federico Pena is a national co-chair of Obama’s campaign.

At the state fairgrounds Monday, Pena warmed up the crowd with chants that alternated from Spanish to English: “Si se puede,” and “Yes we can.”

The McCain campaign is also fielding pitchmen to get the Hispanic vote.

Like Obama, McCain is running ads in both English and Spanish in Colorado.

Earlier this month Harry Bonilla, a former Texas congressman who grew up speaking Spanish in a poor neighborhood, campaigned for McCain in Pueblo, Colorado Springs and Denver. Last month the campaign announced endorsements from a dozen Hispanic leaders, including Fort Collins Mayor Ray Martinez.

Today, the campaign will be registering voters at the Chile and Frijoles Festival in Pueblo, spokesman Tom Kise said.

McCain also has an unlikely and potentially influential ally in Pueblo – a supporter named Salazar.

Winning over steel town

Silverio “Silver” Salazar is a cousin to Sen. Ken Salazar and Rep. John Salazar, both Democrats.

He also is a lifelong Democrat. But he’s not only voting for McCain, he’s spending up to 12 hours a day making phone calls for the candidate – even if his extended family isn’t wild about it.

“Hopefully next year we can have Thanksgiving dinner together again,” he said, only half-joking.

Silverio Salazar said he thinks Obama is “out of touch” with Hispanics. His speech in Pueblo didn’t address Hispanics specifically, he noted. And he thinks McCain will do more to close the border with Mexico and stop illegal immigration.

Pueblo is a Democratic county – there were almost twice as many registered Democrats as Republicans as of August – and Silverio Salazar holds no illusions of McCain winning here.

But if the Republican can pick up enough votes in Pueblo, as well as in areas like the San Luis Valley and Boulder County, it could mean McCain takes the state.

“That’s the plan,” Silverio Salazar said.

Democrats in this steel town went heavily for Hillary Rodham Clinton over Obama in the February caucus, so Silverio Salazar has been going through a list of approximately 600 of her supporters.

So far more than 400 have told him they’ll vote for McCain, Silverio Salazar said, although he admits some may have been just telling him what he wanted to hear.

Meanwhile back on the east side of town, Anna Hernandez and her grandfather, Freddie Franklin, say they’re planning to vote for Obama.

Both are registered Democrats who were for Clinton early on, largely because of her longtime support for universal health care.

But when Obama became the nominee, they concluded he would do more to help the middle class and to lower the cost of gas.

“There’s a lot of people struggling here,” said Hernandez, 29, who along with her husband has four children ranging in age from 2 to 11.

“We need somebody to get in there who will help us with what we need.”

Obama clinched her vote a few weeks ago when some of his volunteers knocked on her door. It was the first time anyone had campaigned on her doorstep, Hernandez said.

“That was really cool,” she recalled.

Staff photographer Barry Gutierrez contributed to this report.

The Hispanic vote

The issues most important to Hispanic voters are the same issues that most concern the electorate as a whole, a poll of Hispanics in Western states found.

* Top issue: The economy and rising prices, followed by the war in Iraq. Illegal immigration was an issue for one in four of those interviewed.

* The poll: By Myers Research, it included 17 focus groups and interviews with 1,800 Hispanics in Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Arizona.

What they’re saying

* “Hispanic voters are not one-dimensional voters. Like everyone else they don’t want to see their taxes raised, they want an experienced leader . . . not just someone who talks about change.”

Tom Kise, spokesman for John McCain

* “Sen. Obama has a record of standing up for issues important to the Hispanic community, including increasing economic opportunity for working families, creating jobs, expanding access to affordable health care and fighting against health care disparities in minority communities.”

Matt Chandler, spokesman for Barack Obama

This weekend

* Obama campaign: New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson will campaign for Obama in Alamosa, Greeley and Pueblo.

* McCain campaign: It will be registering voters at the Chile and Frijoles Festival in Pueblo.


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