Roaring Fork Valley Latinos backing Obama | VailDaily.com
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Roaring Fork Valley Latinos backing Obama

Katie Reddingnewsroom@vaildaily.comRoaring Fork Valley CO, Colorado

ROARING FORK VALLEY, Colorado To help ensure that Barack Obama is elected, Magda Santiago this year convinced her friends that they have to vote for the first time.Santiago is not alone. Latino voters in the Roaring Fork Valley appear to overwhelmingly favor Obama, with several of them noting that they had registered for the first time just to vote for the Democratic nominee. Statewide, 68 percent of Colorado Latino voters preferred Obama, and only 26 percent preferred McCain, a Quinnipac University/Wall Street Journal poll found.Santiago, 55, owns Leticias Creations, a clothing store in Carbondale, and the economy is an important issue for her this year.The economy is really, really bad, she said.No one wants to buy clothes anymore, she said. In fact, her business is down so much these days that shes looking to sell her store.But Santiago said she trusts Obama to both bring about economic change and look out for her community. Those are among the reasons she intends to vote for him, a decision shes broadcasting with a Spanish-language Obama campaign sign in her window.He comes from the minority, right? she said. Hes not coming from the rich people. And maybe hes going to think for the poor people. Not even [just] for the poor people, I think for everybody.First-time voter Manuel Ruiz, 37, of Carbondale, will also vote for Obama this year.Ruiz echoed Santiagos concerns about the economy, but like many local Latino voters, he also highlighted immigration as a very important issue, specifically the need for immigrants to become citizens or legal residents more easily. He thinks Obama is more likely to effect change in this area.Hes just this young guy, and he seems like hes really going to change things, he said.Several Latino voters also mentioned their frustration with Americas wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Its the first thing Antonio Guzman, 42, of Carbondale, said when asked why he prefers Obama.Many, like Esau Rodriguez, 20, of Aspen Village, say theyve been paying attention to the candidates proposals on issues like health care and taxes, and they favor Obamas plans more.A lot of workJosh Buchman, a volunteer organizer with the Carbondale Obama campaign, said the candidate is popular among Latinos because they favor his politics.For months, the campaign has been sending bilingual volunteers into neighborhoods with high populations of Spanish speakers, he explained. Volunteers have brought voter registration forms printed in Spanish, helped explain the voter registration process and passed out Obama signs and literature in Spanish to those who want them.Its a lot of work, and not a lot of people are doing it, Buchman said.This weekend, volunteers Mary Harris and Rachel Smith went to two Carbondale neighborhoods with a high density of Spanish speakers. Its too late to register voters, but they helped make sure registered voters know where to vote and how to fill out their mail-in ballot.The directions on the mail-in ballot directions are all in English, Harris said, and one family she visited on Saturday had just decided not to fill it out because they didnt understand it. Harris said she explained how to fill it out and the different ways to turn it in. She and Smith said they found similar confusion at several households.Randy Milhoan, co-chairman of the McCain campaign office in Eagle (the nearest office listed on the McCain website), said he was surprised to hear about the support for Obama. His campaigns polling numbers show local Latino voters split 50-50 between the candidates. The campaign has literature in Spanish and has been taking out ads in La Tribuna, a local Spanish-language newspaper, he said.And he argued that Republican party values fit the Latino culture because of its focus on family values, right-to-life issues and support of small business and entrepreneurial spirit.However, he was willing to acknowledge that George Bushs campaign, for which he also volunteered, seemed to make a stronger push for the Latino vote than McCains campaign has done. Bushs campaign managers may have understood the Latino vote better than McCains campaign managers because they were from Texas, he speculated.Statewide, even Gil Cisneros the chair of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly for Colorado has been critical of his partys failure to focus on Hispanic voters.Other issuesSeveral Spanish-speaking voters were less sure about how they would vote on other issues a trend that has also been seen in the population at large. A recent Mason-Dixon Polling & Research poll found Colorado voters very confused over state ballot issues, according to the Denver Post.When canvassing neighborhoods, Harris said she explains to voters that they dont have to vote on every issue in order for their ballot to count. And while she tries not to tell people how to vote, she says she does sometimes explain to Obama supporters that he will be able to accomplish his goals more easily if the Democratic Party wins other seats. Many, she speculated, may be likely to vote a straight Democratic ticket.Will it make a difference?Despite the fact that Hispanics are the nations largest and fastest-growing minority group, their electoral influence is weakened by the fact that many are not eligible to vote, either because they are too young, not registered or are not U.S. citizens, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Hispanics comprise 15 percent of the U.S. population, but are expected to comprise only 6.5 percent of voters in the upcoming election.That trend persists in the Roaring Fork Valley, Harris said. Canvassing Spanish-speaking neighborhoods, she is more likely to find Latinos who cant vote than those who can, she said.Still, Colorados Hispanic population should not be underestimated, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Hispanics comprise 20 percent of the states population, and 12 percent of its eligible voters. Moreover, NPR, CNN and the Christian Science Monitor have all recently run stories arguing that Latinos could be part of the reason that Obama is leading the polls in Colorado right now. Political experts argue that the Latino vote could be the factor that swings Colorado to the Democrats, particularly if the party is successful in getting the constituency out to vote.So until the election, volunteers like Mary Harris will go door to door, trying to make sure one voter at a time that valley Latinos turn out on or before Nov. 4.I think we made a difference in six peoples lives today, so thats something, she said.kredding@aspentimes.com


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