Local parties battle for Latino vote advantage

Parties target Hispanics around the Coachella valley who could swing some races on Election Day

PALM DESERT, Calif. - Both Democrats and Republicans recognize the growing importance of the Latino vote.  More than 20 million Latino voters are eligible to vote nationwide.  Two million of them are in Riverside County alone.  

That fact hasn't been lost on local political parties who are going all out to win over Latino votes for their candidates and issues.

Thermal resident Elisa Hernandez said her concerns were about, "More jobs, we need to work. There's no work."
Mirna Flores of Desert Hot Springs said, "I would say the top issues are housing, health and education."

Two million Latinos could vote in Riverside county alone.  But how to get those votes? 

Both Democrats and Republicans have turned to television ads to sell their ideas and messages.  Republican Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack and her Democratic challenger, Raul Ruiz, have both spent tens of thousands of dollars on major ad buys.

Proposition 30 and Proposition 32 also have seen a number of ad buys on Latino media outlets.

Getting one-on-one time with potential Latino voters though, many of them first time voters, appears to be the big strategy for party leaders.

Democratic organizer, David Sanchez, said Democrats have spent months holding campaign events for candidates including Manuel Perez for State Assembly, and Paul Ruiz for Congress.   Said Sanchez, "We're very proud of the fact we have a candidate who's sparking the interest of the Latino community to vote this November for his candidacy, for our president and for the issues that affect us as a community."

Sanchez said they also use the events to register voters and share their views.  They've also been registering voters and sharing their messages at local stores including Cardenas Market in Cathedral City and at the Indio K-Mart store.

Those personal interactions are important said Sanchez, "Telling them how important the power of the vote is and their right to exercise the power of the vote and to encourage first time citizens to come out and take part in the vote this November."
Local Republicans also have Latino candidates including Corky Reynaga-Emmet for State Assembly, and Rose Swearingen for Indian Wells City Council.  They're each representatives of a growing and more influential population.

Swearingen said, "It's not about liking a person or disliking them.  It's about who is the strongest leader for the position."

Recent polling suggests Democrats maintain an edge when it comes to winning Latino votes, but Republicans continue to work the phone banks to win over new votes.

Johnny Hildreth, a Republican Campaign Organizer in Rancho Mirage, said, "We've had a lot of people in the last several weeks that have changed party affiliation."  Hildreth said, "They were Democrat.  now they're voting Republican.  A lot of them are Hispanic.  They're just not happy with what Obama has been doing."

Republicans see rising food stamps use, more people unemployed, and people losing homes all as signals for a new direction.

Hildreth said they hope to win Latino voters with same standard questions they're asking everyone, "Are you better off today than you were four years ago?  Is your job better than four years ago? Are you making more money than you were four years ago?"

Hildreth said Latinos ultimately want the same thing as everyone else, a car, a home, a job and to provide for their family.

So Republicans work phone banks, walk neighborhoods and crunch the data trying to gain any advantage.

Only on election day will they and their Democratic rivals learn whether their efforts paid off.

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