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Latino Groups Launch Voter Registration Drive

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Latino leaders from around the country wrapped up a three-day meeting in Los Angeles over the weekend. The Latino Congreso brought together more than 1,500 activists from around the country. KPCC's Frank Stoltze reports voter registration topped the agenda.

Frank Stoltze: Few know more about Latino voting habits than Antonio Gonzalez. He runs the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project. Gonzalez says his group is working with grassroots organizations to register Latino voters in 12 states before the November election.

Antonio Gonzalez: Southwest Voter provides funding to hire two to three full time organizers. We train them, extend our legal status to them, provide them materials, develop a plan with them. And then they register anywhere from one to three-thousand people within an eight week period. We have 125 of those that are getting set up.

Stoltze: It's part of an effort by a coalition of Latino organizations. Gonzalez says the new effort will target key congressional districts and four presidential swing states: Florida, Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico. They'll work to register new voters in California too.

Gonzalez: We just had it set up in Inland Empire, Coachella, San Diego, Central Orange County. We have 20 of those throughout the L.A. area that we're setting up now. About half are set up. We just had a meeting in South Central with 28 different community organizations.

Stoltze: Together, Latino groups plan to spend $5 million registering up to two million new voters across the country. Gonzalez says the presidential primary season already saw a surge of a million new Latino voters, the vast majority American-born and under 30. Right now, about 10 million Latinos are registered to vote in America. Gonzalez says many of their votes are up for grabs.

Gonzalez: The recent data shows about a two to one trend for Obama across Latino voters. That's a decrease. He was three to one.

Stoltze: Gonzalez says Obama may have slipped in the polls because he backed off a pledge to push immigration reform in the first 100 days of his administration. He also notes it's a fluid race.

Gonzalez: Neither candidate has committed to doing broad-based legalization in the first hundred days. Neither candidate has committed to discarding the failed policies towards Latin America.

Stoltze: Gonzalez says immigration reform is the top issue for foreign born Latino citizens who comprise about one-third of the overall Latino vote. For Latinos born here, the Iraq War ranks second; the economy, first.

Gonzalez: The gaping income inequality in American society: growing, dramatic. This is the worst in three generations in the richest country the world has ever seen.

Stoltze: Registration among Latinos remains overwhelmingly Democratic. Fifty-five percent of Latinos are registered Democrats. Twenty percent are registered Republicans. Most of the rest are independents. Latinos comprise at least 10% of the voters in each of the four biggest presidential swing states; a third of voters in New Mexico.

Gonzalez: So in a close race, they could be absolutely decisive. And none of those states are Latinos, like, real liberal. These are not liberal Latino-vote states. They are moderate states, so both candidates have a shot there.

Stoltze: That's why Obama and McCain made sure to attend three recent national Latino conferences, and pledged to spend considerable resources reaching out to Latino voters.