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Hispanics key in Obama victory

By Paula Bustamante |  AFP

MIAMI, Florida – Hispanic voters in the United States demonstrated their electoral power by voting en masse on Tuesday for the re-election of Democratic President Barack Obama.

Despite having fallen short on political promises to Hispanic voters during his first term, Obama was able to convince them – even in the state of Florida – that he was the better candidate, capturing even more votes from the Hispanic community than in 2008.

Some 71 percent of Hispanic voters backed Obama on Election Day, compared to 27 percent who favored Republican challenger Mitt Romney, according to a study of the elections by the Pew Hispanic Center.

Polling firm Latino Decisions said the number was even greater, with 75 percent of Latinos voting for Obama, a record high for a presidential candidate.

Four years ago, Obama captured 67 percent of the Hispanic vote compared to challenger John McCain’s 31 percent. Only ex-President Bill Clinton registered similar numbers, capturing 72 percent of the Hispanic vote in 1996. 

“Latinos played a key role in the shaping of the country’s political landscape, which shows they have tremendous influence as voters in an election,” Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), said in a statement on Tuesday.

Latinos represented 10 percent of total voters, a 1 percent increase from 2008 and an 8 percent increase from 2004, Pew Hispanic Center reported. 

NALEO estimated that 12.2 million Hispanics voted on Tuesday, about half of all eligible Hispanic voters in the U.S. Some 50 million Latinos live in the U.S.

Democrats showed signs this week that Hispanic voter loyalty would begin to pay off politically, as Senate leader Harry Reid promised on Wednesday to make immigration reform a priority in the next U.S. Congress.

Latinos were crucial for Obama’s re-election in key states such as Colorado, where 87 percent of the minority block’s voters chose Obama. In Arizona, that number was 79 percent, and in New Mexico, 77 percent, according to a poll by Spanish-language media group ImpreMedia and Latino Decisions.

“Obama is the man to choose after the Republican Party stopped being what it used to be and allowed conservative elements who want to take away social benefits that are the right of everyone,” Joe Olazaga, a 54-year-old Cuban-American real estate broker, told AFP in the center of Miami.

In Florida, scrutiny of 20,000 votes continued on Wednesday, delaying a final tally in the key state, which represents 29 of the total 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House. However, Obama easily breezed to victory in the Electoral College, although the popular vote was nearly tied. 

“There have been some delays in the final vote tally [in Florida] not because of problems with the process, but rather the high voter turnout,” Christine White, a state electoral supervisor, said. 

In Miami-Dade County, a bastion of the Republican Cuban vote, Obama improved his support compared to the 2008 elections.  

The president also did well in central Florida, home to a growing Puerto Rican community that swings heavily in favor of the Democrats.

According to exit polls, Obama obtained 60 percent compared to Romney’s 39 percent of Florida’s Hispanic vote. Obama’s 2008 victory against McCain was much closer with Florida Hispanics. 

Pilar Marrero, a journalist and analyst for ImpreMedia, told AFP that Hispanics, despite having expressed frustration with Obama over his failed promise to pass immigration reform during his first term, “mobilized the vote out of fear of what Romney represented,” a reference to Romney’s harsh policy ideas on immigration outlined during the primaries.

Obama’s message of “increasing taxes on the rich and maintaining social programs resonated with the [Hispanic] community, which shares this philosophy with the Democrats,” Marrero said.

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