Hispanics have the potential to tip the results of the presidential election in Arizona and several other states, said former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Henry Cisneros.
But getting Hispanics to vote is easier said than done.
Cisneros and others are counting on two factors to motivate unprecedented numbers of Hispanics to cast ballots on Nov. 2: President Bush’s domestic record and a big get-out-the-vote campaign.
The stakes are high, said Cisneros, who discussed the matter hours before the presidential debate between Bush and Sen. John Kerry on Wednesday in Tempe.
Historically, about 66 percent of Hispanic voters cast their ballots for Democratic candidates. That alone gives Hispanics considerable clout on Election Day.
Furthermore, in five states, the number of registered Hispanic voters exceeds the margin of votes that have separated winning and losing presidential candidates in those states.
Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and Florida already fall into that category. Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are headed there, Cisneros said.
No matter where Hispanics live, they want the same things that other Americans want, he said. They want solid school systems, livable wages, safeguards for small businesses and affordable health care.
"We have a large population with interests related to the fact that its children are younger, that it is lower on the wage scale than others, that its best days are yet ahead; a population that is hardworking and ambitious and embraces the American dream," Cisneros said.
However, Hispanics generally have held more potential than power at the polls. They have lagged in becoming registered voters.
Oddly, Bush’s efforts to attract Hispanic voters in 2000 likely will energize Hispanics to vote in 2004, Cisneros said. The difference is that this time a greater number will vote against Bush, he said.
"Trotting out some tamales at an event and speaking a few words in Spanish pale in comparison in whether or not you can advance in your job, educate your children and have health insurance," Cisneros said.
The Arizona Democratic Party specifically has focused on engaging Hispanics, said chairman Jim Pederson. Last weekend alone, 15,000 volunteers visited 110,000 homes to personally ask voters to cast ballots for Kerry and other Democrats, he said.
"The voting process that you and I take for granted is an intimidating experience for a lot of people, particularly first-time voters," Pederson said. "But if they get out to vote once, then the second time is easier and the third time is automatic."
At least that’s the theory. The results will become apparent Nov. 2.