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Hispanics Play Pivotal Role in the 2012 Political Conventions and Election

September 5, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
For the first time, Hispanic politicians were major speakers at both national conventions, illustrating the growing power wielded by those politicians and Hispanic voters, who make up a critical portion of the population in three swing states. Ray Suarez reports.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: So in the hall right now there are about, we’re told, about 800 Latino delegates. It is the highest number attending any presidential convention. Our Ray Suarez looks at the effort to win Latino votes this fall.

RAY SUAREZ: A young mayor becomes the first Latino to keynote a Democratic Convention.

JULIAN CASTRO (D), Mayor of San Antonio, Texas: My grandmother spent her whole life working as a maid, a cook and a babysitter, barely scraping by, but still working hard to give my mother, her only child, a chance in life, so that my mother could give my brother and me an even better one.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

RAY SUAREZ: Last week in Tampa, a young U.S. senator became the first Latino keynoter ever at a major party convention.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-Fla.): My dad used to tell us: “En este pais, ustedes van a poder lograr todas las cosas que nosotros no pudimos.”

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

SEN. MARCO RUBIO: “In this country, you are going to be able to accomplish all the things we never could.”

RAY SUAREZ: That’s no coincidence. The 2010 census counted more than 50 million Latinos in the United States.

New Mexico’s former Governor Bill Richardson, who ran for president himself in 2008, says a threshold has been crossed.

BILL RICHARDSON (D), Former New Mexico Governor: We’re the real deal now. We have been the sleeping giant for a long time, but we have woken up, just because of our numbers.

RAY SUAREZ: Turnout is key. On average, Latinos have lower incomes than other Americans, lower education levels, and are younger than other Americans. And that al fits the profile of nonvoters.

BILL RICHARDSON: I think the challenge for the president and the Democrats is to at least have the same turnout as four years ago. And for any Democrat to be elected president, you need 65 percent of the Latino vote. If you go under, you are in trouble.

RAY SUAREZ: The governor is relieved Marco Rubio isn’t the GOP vice presidential nominee, and he says a close election goes to the president.

Today, first lady Michelle Obama visited a gathering of Latino delegates and elected officials.

MICHELLE OBAMA, First Lady: All of our kids deserve opportunity, whether it’s passing health reform so that families don’t go broke because someone gets sick, whether it’s helping folks stay in their homes or fighting for the DREAM Act, so that all the our children have opportunities worthy of their dreams and their promise.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

RAY SUAREZ: The president has won wide praise from Latino officials for removing the threat of deportation from undocumented immigrants brought to the country illegally as children, the so-called dreamers.

Undocumented young adults carried banners saying “No papers, no fear” in Sunday’s big demonstration at the Democratic Convention.

GILBERTO TORRES, North Carolina: We want to know on which side of history the president wants to be, if he’s still going to be helping the small communities and migrant communities.

RAY SUAREZ: The national head of College Democrats is a Mexican-American from Texas. Alejandra Salinas says, sure, the dreamers can’t vote, but their cause does drive support from Latino voters who support the new policy.

ALEJANDRA SALINAS, President, College Democrats of America: This is a country they want to invest in and get jobs in and contribute to our economy in. These are our friends and our family. And we love them dearly. And when we know we have a president that’s standing up for them and advocating them and understands their struggles, it’s very impactful. It inspires people.

It inspires not only young Latinos and Latino communities, but the country to know that the president is thinking about everybody.

RAY SUAREZ: A record nine million Latinos voted in the 2008 election. Registration drives and the campaigns are trying to drive that number to 12 million in 2012.