With Latino Boom, Is Arizona Up For Grabs In 2012?
The latest report from NY Times highlights an almost doubling of the Latino voting community in Arizona. Many are wondering wether the influx of anti-immigrant bills and sentiment, birthers, ethnic studies bans, proposals to deny citizenship at birth and a whole slate of issues negatively impacting Latinos are prompting to consider this a battleground state?
Given the openly hostile environment, Mr. Obama would seem to have little chance of winning Arizona’s 11 electoral votes in 2012 or even the incentive to make much of an effort here. But the state’s crackdown on illegal immigration has coincided with a boom in its Hispanic population, now nearly a third of the state’s residents.
That has created what Obama strategists and some residents see as a surprising opportunity to compete in a Republican state that was off the map for Mr. Obama in 2008, when it was the home of his opponent, Senator John McCain. The sense has been reinforced by the hard-line stance that most of the Republican presidential field has taken on immigration and the party reaction against Newt Gingrich’s recent call for a “humane” policy on the issue.
The Obama campaign, which is counting on Hispanic voters to help carry friendlier territory like Colorado and Nevada, has opened offices in Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff in a play for Arizona, and it has helped recruit a Hispanic candidate for Senate. Activists are already mobilizing to generate turnout by emphasizing the president’s efforts on behalf of Hispanics, in contrast to the antiimmigration efforts of state Republicans.
“I tell them about the Dream Act,” said Miriam Gonzalez, 23, who has been registering voters at Latino supermarkets like Ranch Market and Food City, referring to the White House-backed legislation that would provide young Hispanic students a path to citizenship but has been stalled by Republican opposition in Congress. “I keep talking, and then people register.”
The voting-age population of Hispanics in Arizona has surged over the last nine years to 845,000 from 455,000 and now constitutes 19 percent of Arizona residents of voting age. Though Hispanics have not turned out at high levels in past years, Democratic activists and Obama campaign officials believe that this year could be different, especially after Hispanic voters flexed their expanding muscle in recent local elections, including one this month that recalled a Republican state senator, Russell Pearce, the architect of the state’s tough immigration law.
Thousands of Hispanic residents who had never voted also flooded the polls to help Daniel Valenzuela, a Hispanic firefighter, beat Brenda Sperduti, a white businesswoman, to become the first Hispanic to represent an overwhelmingly Latino district on the Phoenix City Council.
And Greg Stanton, a Democrat, beat Wes Gullett, a Republican, amid record turnout in the race for mayor of Phoenix, in a replay of Tucson, where Jonathan Rothschild soundly beat Rick Grinnell to become the first Democrat to lead that city since 1999.
Mr. Valenzuela, the Phoenix councilman-elect, said he spent the past year “knocking on the doors of people whose doors had never been knocked on before,” in largely Latino neighborhoods.
“This was a campaign for social behavioral change,” he said. “I would ask people, ‘What do you do when you’re frustrated?’ And they would say, ‘I march.’ ”
His reply became almost standard, he said: “If the people who marched actually voted, we wouldn’t have to march in the first place.”
Now, Obama campaign strategists say they are taking Arizona seriously.
“I’m completely focused on metrics, and I’m not going to waste money,” said Jim Messina, Mr. Obama’s campaign manager, referring to the campaign’s decision to open offices in the state, where Mr. Obama won 45 percent of the vote in 2008 despite Mr. McCain’s advantages. “Arizona is the one state in the country where we didn’t play hard in 2008.”
Campaign experts still consider Arizona a long shot for Mr. Obama. If the election were held today, “Obama would lose handily,” said Bruce Merrill, a professor emeritus at Arizona State University. But, Mr. Merrill added, “there are some things going on here that could be more favorable a year from now for Obama.”
Among the factors working against the president in Arizona is the housing bust, which has hurt Arizona more than most other places. About half of the homeowners with mortgages in the state owe more than their houses are worth, and the same is true of about 60 percent of commercial properties with mortgages. Arizona is not the only place where Mr. Obama is hoping to take advantage of demographic changes. Although Mr. Obama’s support among blue-collar white voters has been weakening, and his prospects in traditional presidential bellwethers like Ohio and other industrial states are shaky, the campaign is trying to shore up an alternative Western strategy that expands the electoral map.