Dems Capitalize On Advantage With Hispanic Voters

Hispanics were a major focus of the program at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. Democrats, beginning their convention in Charlotte, N.C., are hoping to capitalize on their current advantage with Hispanic voters.

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The Democratic National Convention got under way today in Charlotte, North Carolina. Beyond formally nominating President Obama and Vice President Biden for second terms, the event will also showcase the party's rising Latino political leaders. Democrats hold a sizable edge over Republicans among Hispanic voters. And they are determined to further cement that advantage at this week's convention. NPR's David Welna reports from Charlotte.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: The Democratic convention will make history this evening when Julian Castro, the 37-year-old mayor of San Antonio, Texas, steps up to the podium as the first Latino to be keynote speaker at a national political convention. He'll be introduced by his identical twin brother, Joaquin, who's currently running for a seat in Congress.

For Elizabeth Mendoza, a 26-year-old convention delegate from Washington state, their appearance in such a privilege speaking slot means Latinos in this country have arrived.

ELIZABETH MENDOZA: As a young Latino voter, it just says, you know, that they are not only talking the talk, but they're walking the walk. We're not only visibly at the convention, but there's 800 of us delegates this time around. And that really shows, I mean, strength in numbers.

WELNA: You might think the prospect of taking the center of the political stage would make a relative unknown nervous. But if that's the case with Julian Castro, he's not letting on.

MAYOR JULIAN CASTO: I don't feel much pressure on me. The key is not so much the personalities. The key is the policies.

WELNA: Speaking with NPR in the stands above the stage he'll take later tonight, Castro says those policies have been good for this nation's nearly 50 million Latinos.

CASTO: The reason that the president is winning 70 to 25 with Latino voters is that, you know, he's made more educational opportunities possible. A hundred and fifty thousand more Latinos are getting Pell Grants now under his leadership.

WELNA: Another Latino politician playing a leading role here is Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who's chairing the convention.

MAYOR ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: We have a platform that calls for comprehensive immigration reform that will support the DREAM Act. These are our values, and I think you'll see a reflection of that.

WELNA: You'll also likely to hear some Democratic broadsides against the GOP's efforts in Tampa last week to woo Latino voters where several Hispanic Republicans got prominent speaking slots.

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz chairs the Democratic National Committee.

REPRESENTATIVE DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: You know, the Republicans have done everything they can to send a message to Hispanics that you aren't welcome here, that your priorities don't matter. And that Mitt Romney has repeatedly said that what we need to do when it comes to immigration policy is tell the 12 million undocumented immigrants that are here that they should just self-deport.

WELNA: The fight over the Latino vote is growing fiercer between Democrats and Republicans. Kenneth Fernandez directs the Elon University Poll. He says demographics are driving that dispute.

KENNETH FERNANDEZ: And if you look at the United States and what is driving the growth across the United States, it is both immigration and Latino birthrate. So this is the sleeping giant that people have been talking about, well, ever since I've been studying the issue for, what we're talking about, several decades.

WELNA: Which is why Democrats are looking to Latinos to help them carry such battleground states as Nevada, Colorado and Florida. Convention delegates Lorena Gonzalez, of Washington state says the biggest challenge is to get eligible Hispanics registered to vote.

LORENA GONZALEZ: I think the reality is, is that when Latinos vote, they vote Democratic. And so getting them registered to vote is really important. It's a really important effort because once they get registered to vote, the chances of them voting for President Barack Obama or other future Democratic presidential candidates is tremendous. It's huge.

WELNA: And this year's Democratic convention, Gonzales says, should convince Latinos that President Obama's party is truly on their side. David Welna, NPR News, Charlotte.

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