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Here's the reason Republican consultant Karl Rove once spent time courting the Hispanic vote. It's the same reason President Obama worked to win Hispanics in 2008, and why both presidential candidates have spent $11 million on ads targeting them in 2012, a big increase. Each election, the share of the Hispanic vote in a few vital states gets a little larger. To understand what that means, we'll focus this morning on one swing state.
NPR's Greg Allen reports from North Carolina.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Over the last decade, the number of Hispanics in North Carolina has more than doubled to nearly a million. In Raleigh, Latinos now make up about 10 percent of the city's population.
In the Brentwood neighborhood, many shop at International Foods, Su Tienda Hispana - Your Hispanic Store. Many are Mexicans and Central Americans, former migrant or seasonal workers who brought their families here and settled down. There are also a lot of Puerto Ricans, people like Angel Delgado.
ANGEL DELGADO: Yeah, I'm going to vote.
ALLEN: Have you decided yet who you're going to vote for?
DELGADO: Yeah. Oh yeah. I'm voting for - I'm voting for Obama. He's the only one who's been doing something for us. You know, people, you know, they need help. You know what I'm saying?
ALLEN: Four years ago, more than two-thirds of Hispanic voters supported President Obama. And in North Carolina it made a difference. Latinos make up just about three percent of the electorate here, but Mr. Obama ended up winning the state by just 14,000 votes. Since then, the number of Hispanics registered to vote has doubled in North Carolina. The Obama campaign is counting on them once again.
The campaign has been working for months to organize the Latino vote, with phone banking, canvassing, and registering new voters in Hispanic neighborhoods. With North Carolina crucial to a Romney victory, his campaign is also working to win over Latinos.
(SOUNDBITE OF AD)
CRAIG ROMNEY: ...Craig Romney. (Spanish spoken)
ALLEN: That's one of several Spanish-language ads the Romney campaign has been running in Raleigh. It features Mr. Romney's son, Craig, a fluent Spanish speaker, talking about his father, who he describes as the son of an immigrant from Mexico. Mitt Romney's father, George, was born there to American parents and came to the U.S. as a child.
The Obama campaign isn't running Spanish language ads on broadcast TV in Raleigh, instead counting on its ground game to get out the Hispanic vote. The Romney campaign is also working on mobilizing Hispanics.
At Republican headquarters in Raleigh, Peter Agiovlassitis has been volunteering with the Romney campaign, making phone calls to fellow Hispanics. Agiovlassitis is a marketing and advertising executive, half Greek and half Cuban. He believes Latinos who listen should respond to Governor Romney's economic message.
PETER AGIOVLASSITIS: If the Hispanics see what the real story is out there - unemployment right now is 8.1 percent. But in the Hispanic community it's 10.2 percent. People aren't working. And more Hispanics aren't working, so where are we going to get the jobs?
ALLEN: Polls show that the economy is the number one issue for Hispanic voters, as it is for voters generally. But immigration also remains an important issue for Hispanics. Ferrel Guillory, director of the Program on Public Life at the University of North Carolina, says for Romney that's a problem.
FERRELL GUILLORY: The Romney campaign has the disadvantage that much of the anti-immigrant legislation in the South has been sponsored by Republicans.
ALLEN: Romney himself took a hard line against illegal immigration during the primaries. Now in the Spanish-language ads running in North Carolina, the Romney campaign touts its candidate's biography, his economic plans, his promise to repeal Obamacare, but says little about immigration.
Arlene Nugent is a Latina, formerly in the military, who says she was drawn to Mitt Romney out of concern about the growing U.S. debt. She does phone banking with the campaign and talks to friends and relatives. She's concerned, though, that many Latinos she encounters already seem wedded to the Democratic Party.
ARLENE NUGENT: I do believe that some people are in their political party either by family, history, family tradition, racial pride. And because of that, they just vote by habit as opposed to being informed.
ALLEN: That could be a problem for Republicans in North Carolina this year, and in future elections. The median age in North Carolina's fast-growing Hispanic population is just 23. And most of the population growth is now fueled not by immigration but by births. Because of the language barrier, attachment to their home countries, and the fact that many are here illegally, Latinos have been slow to engage politically in North Carolina.
But Gabriela Zabala, a Democratic activist who moved to Raleigh from Ecuador more than 30 years ago, says that's changing. With the last election and now this one, she says, Hispanics are becoming involved politically.
GABRIELA ZABALA: We're just growing up, and it will be a time when we become very mature, and things will change.
ALLEN: Zabala is predicting a big turnout among Hispanics come November, one that she believes may help determine the outcome of the election. Greg Allen, NPR News.
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