LAS VEGAS — In the last days of the campaign, Republicans and Democrats are walking the precincts here with lists of registered Latino voters who may be the key to victory in the Western battleground states, and this is what they are finding: padlocks on front doors, "bank owned" placards in the yards and, among those still in their homes, growing support for Barack Obama's promise of change.
The Spanish-speaking canvassers -- immigrants or children of immigrants themselves -- come face to face with a frayed American dream. Many residents who answer an earnest knock say they have lost their hotel and casino jobs and are selling their cars while awaiting eviction notices.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, October 30, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 44 words Type of Material: Correction
Latino voters: An article Sunday in Section A about Latino voters in Nevada mentioned Jose Torres, a man trying to make ends meet by buying and selling automobiles, and said he "pointed to two Ford Malibus" in the frontyard. Malibus are made by Chevrolet.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, November 02, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 45 words Type of Material: Correction
Latino voters: An article Oct. 26 in Section A about Latino voters in Nevada mentioned Jose Torres, a man trying to make ends meet by buying and selling automobiles, and said he "pointed to two Ford Malibus" in the frontyard. Malibus are made by Chevrolet.
"I'm for Obama," Gustavo Mora, 64, told a Republican campaign worker on his doorstep last week. "I'm losing my house. That one next door is gone. Across the street, Chinese people bought that house. . . . The economy is so bad, and I am afraid [John] McCain has the same ideas as President Bush, since he's a Republican too."
Miriam Mora-Barajas, 26, responded that McCain understands the needs of entrepreneurs like Mora, who owns two ice cream trucks, and that the candidate opposes raising taxes on small businesses because it means they will have less money to invest.
But Mora said he didn't have money to invest as it was, and he wondered how he would rent an apartment with a credit record showing he defaulted on his home loan.
"We know Obama is younger and less experienced, but the country needs a change," Mora said.
Mora's views are reflected in recent polls that show Latino voters could provide the margin of victory for Obama in Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico -- states that went for President Bush in 2004 and that account for 19 electoral votes. If either candidate sweeps the big states of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, he could win without these Western states. But if the bigger states are split, each candidate would probably need the Western states for an electoral college victory.
The importance of those states was underscored Saturday, when the McCain and Obama campaigns made stops in New Mexico and Nevada.
The William C. Velasquez Institute, a nonpartisan public policy center in Los Angeles, analyzed polling data from the three Western states and Florida. It found that Latino voters provided no advantage to either side in Florida despite long-standing support for the Republican Party by Cuban Americans.
In the Western states, the Latino vote is growing in size and as a percentage of the total, and it is favoring the Democratic Party more than in previous years.
Latinos make up 32.4% of registered voters in New Mexico, 11.4% in Nevada and 9.9% in Colorado. The institute examined data from eight polling firms and found that Obama's lead over McCain in Nevada would be 42.4% to 40.7% without Latino voters -- a difference that's within the margin of error. Include Latino voters, however, and Obama's lead grows to 50%, versus 43% for McCain.
That only tells part of the story, according to Antonio Gonzalez, president of the institute. In the last presidential election, 60% of Latinos in Nevada voted for Democratic candidate John F. Kerry and 40% for Bush. This time, polls show a 7- to 10-point increase for Obama.
"Two things are happening: The Latino vote is growing, and there's a bigger margin of support for Obama," Gonzalez said. "The Latino vote has been important in New Mexico for a long time, and it continues to grow, but in Nevada and Colorado, this is new."
In New Mexico, McCain has a 4-point lead without Latino voters, and Obama has an 8-point lead with the Latino vote. And in Colorado, a statistical tie without Latinos jumps to 51% for Obama versus 45% for McCain when Latinos are included.
The McCain campaign had hoped to grow support among conservative Latinos by emphasizing "family values" issues, such as his opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage, as well as the candidate's history of support for comprehensive immigration overhaul. For Fernando Romero, a Latino Democrat and political commentator, these were decisive factors.
"I am antiabortion and pro-life, and I believe what McCain said at Saddleback Church: that life begins at conception," Romero said at a McCain field office in a Las Vegas shopping center. "It is difficult to turn my back on John McCain."
Obama has said he supports the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision overturning laws banning abortion.
Romero noted that McCain is a Westerner who has had lifelong relationships with Latinos, including fellow prisoner of war Everett Alvarez, who is campaigning for him. Romero believes the Arizona Republican will push for immigration overhaul, as he has in the past, and will stand up to the Republican Party when he thinks it's the right thing to do.