By DIANA NGUYEN
WASHINGTON (Feb. 12, 2010) - Candidates who call for comprehensive immigration reform in elections this year can expect a surge of support from voters of Latin American descent, according to a recent report.
America's Voice, an organization advocating for immigration reform, released a report Monday analyzing Latino voting trends and predicting their impact on the 2010 gubernatorial, House and Senate races.
About 10 million Latinos voted nationally in the 2008 elections, an increase from the 8 million in 2006 and 7.4 million in 2004, said Frank Sharry, America's Voice executive director.
Latino voter registration increased 54 percent from 2000 to 2008, according to the report.
Sharry predicts the increasing trend will continue with the 2010 midterm elections.
Conventional wisdom, Sharry said, is that poor or minority voters matter less in midterm elections, but ignoring them would be a mistake and result in lower voter turnout rates.
The report predicted that in the majority of states projected to either gain or lose seats due to the 2010 Census, Latinos made up a greater share of the overall electorate in 2008 than 2000.
Hispanics, like all Americans, are concerned with health care, school reform and safe streets, said Janet Murguia, president and CEO of National Council of La Raza. But they are especially paying attention to the immigration reform issue.
"What matters to us should matter to any wise politician," Murguia said.
The report features 40 "Races to Watch" in 2010 where Latino voters will impact election results. Maryland is not among them because of its smaller Hispanic population, however, California, Texas and Florida could see a significant force of Latinos voting.
Latinos are more inclined to vote for Democrat candidates, especially if the candidate favors immigration reform, the report said.
"In a May 2009 poll of Latino voters by Bendixen & Associates, 82 percent of Latino voters said that the immigration issue is important to them and their families," according to the report.
At the same time, more than half of those surveyed said they did not trust Republicans to "do the right thing on the immigration issue."
It is not the Republicans to blame but the media, said Robert Broadus, of Clinton, a Republican candidate for Maryland's 4th Congressional District.
"I think the miscast of Republicans by the media as hate-mongers is simply untrue," Broadus said. "If you listen to the words of the Democrats and Republicans, the words are the same."
Broadus is fighting to unseat Rep. Donna Edwards. Edwards, D-Fort Washington, who represents large portions of Montgomery and Prince George's counties—the two Maryland jurisdictions with the largest Hispanic populations.
For Maryland, the Latino vote is particularly important in primary races especially in jurisdictions like Montgomery County, Sharry said.
"You need the Latino vote as a Democrat," he said.
The suburban Washington counties are home to 69 percent of Maryland's Hispanics, according to the census figures. Montgomery County leads in Hispanics with 140,657 residents, about 15 percent of the county population.
There were more than 341,000 Hispanic Marylanders in 2008, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Only 112,000, or about one-third, of Hispanics were eligible to vote, and about 68 percent of those eligible voted.
"Every voter is important in every election," said Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick. "America is the most welcoming nation in the world to immigrants. This is one of our great strengths."
Bartlett, the only Republican congressman in Maryland's House delegation, opposes any comprehensive immigration legislation that would include amnesty.
"I oppose amnesty because it is counterproductive," Bartlett said. "Amnesty rewards illegal behavior which diminishes respect for all laws and encourages more illegal behavior. Amnesty would be a slap in the face of American citizens and legal immigrants."
While immigration activists were disappointed at President Obama's short reference to a comprehensive immigration reform bill in his State of the Union address, citizens, especially Latinos, will look to the president and Congress for leadership in creating more jobs in tandem with immigration reform.
"We're still alive," Sharry said. "The final chapter has not been written."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.