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In GOP Friendly Weld, Both Sides Working To Turn Out The Latino Vote

Grace Hood
Cinthia Nevarez Ruiz (left) and Monica Martinez (right) canvas for Mi Familia Vota on the eastern edge of Greeley.

In 2012, more than half of Colorado Latinos registered to vote, and 90 percent actually cast a ballot, according to data analyzed by Rocky Mountain PBS I-News. That makes this group highly sought after in several too-close-to-call 2014 political races.

Nowhere is this quest for turnout more evident than in Weld County, where an estimated 28 percent of the population identifies as Latino. While the county is solidly Republican, Latino voters sided heavily with the Democrats in 2012.

For Mi Familia Vota, a nonpartisan get-out-the-vote group targeting Latino voters, it doesn't matter which side people vote for. Canvasser Cinthia Nevarez Ruiz said it's more about making sure people turn in their ballots.

"Once you connect with a person, they're willing to listen, they're willing to say, 'Yes, I will vote,'" said Nevarez Ruiz.

Once she connects with a voter, she'll ask if they'll sign a pledge to vote in the November 4 midterms. She also gathers contact information, which is used by Mi Familia Vota closer to the election to follow up with individuals and make sure they've cast their ballots.

"People are thinking that the Latino community isn't going to vote. On the contrary, I think people are more motivated."

More than 500 canvassers are doing this work across six western and southern states to bring out the vote for Mi Familia Vota, National Communications and Development Director Felipe Benitez points out.

"In 2012 we brought the immigration reform to the table through our vote," he said. "This year we want to make sure that it stays on the table."

A recent poll by the National Council of La Raza Action Fund found that jobs, fixing the economy and immigration reform as top priorities for Colorado Latinos.

So how are Democrats and Republicans wooing voters?

Credit Grace Hood / KUNC
Mi Familia Vota asks people to sign a pledge that they will vote. Those who can't register to vote are asked to pledge that they'll make sure friends and family who are registered to vote turn out to the polls.

Inside a detached garage in Greeley, a half dozen volunteers make phone calls for Democratic state senate candidate Joe Perez. A sign hangs above dubbing it 'Joe's Garage.

"I built this garage so I could work on my cars, but it's become a campaign office," said Perez, who ran a call outreach center in 2012 to connect with Latino supporters of President Barack Obama.

Weld County Latino and independent voters are key to Perez's outreach campaign to win Senate District 13. There's one familiar sounding challenge though.

"It is an uphill battle because many of the constituents — like myself at a younger age — was [sic] busy working, supporting a family, not really involved in much more than half an hour of news a day," he said.

For Perez that makes face-to-face canvassing and phone calls on key issues like immigration reform vital. Questions about why President Barack Obama didn't do more to pass reform often come up.

"Radio and television try to make it sound like the President is at fault," said Perez. "But I can guarantee the Latino community if Congress were to pass a law and send it to him, he would sign it today."

Since three-fourths of Colorado's Latinos went for Obama in 2012, Colorado Republicans have been busy building in roads with them. Not surprisingly, the President's promises on immigration reform are a key talking point.

"It's unfortunate that the President promised in his first 100 days in office to pass immigration reform. Well, he failed the Hispanic community," said Paulo Sibaja, director of Hispanic Initiatives for the Republican National Committee in Colorado.

They're getting their message out to potential voters, like Senate Republican challenger Cory Gardner's speech at a recent naturalization ceremony in Greeley.

"The faces of these folks are just filled with joy," Sibaja said. "And the first interaction that they have with the Republican Party is a positive interaction."

Whatever side Latino voters do decide to support, Mi Familia Vota's Felipe Benitez expects voter turnout to be equally impressive in 2014 as it was in 2012.

"People are thinking that the Latino community isn't going to vote. On the contrary, I think people are more motivated," he said. "I think we're going to give a lot of surprises."

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