MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
Now to presidential politics in the U.S. In Colorado, the polls show Barack Obama holds a narrow lead. That's a state that Republicans have carried in the past two elections. One reason Obama is leading is his strength among Hispanic voters. Our co-host, Robert Siegel, is in Colorado this week, and he spent some time with two Hispanic politicians who are out campaigning, one Democrat and one Republican.
ROBERT SIEGEL: On Sunday afternoon, as the Denver Broncos were barely surviving the passing attack of the New Orleans Saints, a local star returned to the ground game of political campaigning.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOOR-TO-DOOR CANVASSING TEAM)
U: You're going to do - do you want us to do that side?
U: No, I have the even. She has the odd.
U: This is...
U: Even on this side.
U: Even. So you, we have the odd? Good. So we have...
SEIGEL: Former Denver Mayor and Former Cabinet Secretary Federico Pena set out to canvass a working-class, mostly Hispanic neighborhood that he used to represent. Twenty percent of Colorado's population is Hispanic. Most of them typically vote Democrat, but Hispanic turnout is usually low, so the get-out-the-vote effort here is crucial. And most Coloradans will vote early, by mail this year, so it's vital to get out applications for mail-in ballots. That's historically a Republican strong suit, and this year the Democrats are narrowing the gap. So Denver's first Hispanic mayor goes door to door.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOOR-TO-DOOR CANVASSING)
(SOUNDBITE OF KNOCKING)
NORRIS: Hello. Federico Pena.
NORRIS: (Spanish spoken)
(SOUNDBITE OF KNOCKING)
NORRIS: Hello. Are the Trujillos(ph) here? Can I say hello? I'm Federico Pena. How are you? Can we just take two minutes? Is this the Gonzales(ph)?
NORRIS: What do you want?
NORRIS: Hi. My name is Federico Pena. How are you?
NORRIS: Just tell me what you want.
NORRIS: We're campaigning.
NORRIS: I'm watching a ballgame. I'm busy right now. OK. Hurry up.
NORRIS: We're campaigning for Barack Obama. I just want to ask you to vote for him.
NORRIS: Get the hell out of here.
NORRIS: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOOR SLAMMING)
(SOUNDBITE OF KNOCKING)
NORRIS: Hello, Mr. Jisterros(ph)?
NORRIS: Hi, how do you doing?
NORRIS: How are you?
NORRIS: Hey listen, we're glad you have an Obama sign in front of your house.
NORRIS: Oh, that's my girlfriend's.
(SOUNDBITE OF KNOCKING)
NORRIS: Can we say hello? Federico Pena. How are you?
U: Good. How are you?
NORRIS: I know you're watching the game, right?
U: Yes, that's right. No problem.
NORRIS: We'll take two seconds.
U: On your side.
(SOUNDBITE OF KNOCKING)
NORRIS: Hi, Mr. Youngfill(ph).
NORRIS: Hi, Federico Pena. How are you?
NORRIS: Hey, good. And you?
NORRIS: Good to see you.
NORRIS: You, too.
NORRIS: Well, we're just going door to door, asking people to vote for Barack Obama for president. Are you there?
NORRIS: Yeah, absolutely. I'm 100 percent behind Barack Obama, absolutely.
NORRIS: Great. Good. How you doing?
(SOUNDBITE OF DOG BARKING)
NORRIS: Ooh, well, a lot of dogs. You know, they may not be home.
SIEGEL: Pena's canvassing team turned up a couple of unregistered voters and helped them fill out applications. They also distributed several applications for mail-in ballots. The next morning, Federico Pena sat down with me in a conference room at his investment firm. It is 16 stories above downtown Denver and many income-tax brackets above the neighborhood where he canvassed. Hispanic issues, he says, are the same as everyone else's, except for one. He says the immigration debate and immigration crackdowns have made many Latinos who are longtime citizens feel that they've been discriminated against.
NORRIS: That's an issue that is slightly below the surface but is resonating when it comes to Barack Obama versus Senator McCain, because people see Senator McCain has abandoned his position on immigration.
SEIGEL: But Senator McCain was the rare Republican who was way out in front supporting immigration. He lost. He can argue and say, look, I supported it so long as it was possible. We just, we can't get that bill through anymore. Does he have a case with Latino voters?
NORRIS: No, because what people understand is not only did he lose, but he gave up. And then he turned to his base, the very conservative part of the Republican Party, and he said publicly, I hear you. And so his conversion to the right wing of the Republican Party has now aligned him with the very negative rhetoric of many of the members of his party and of the anti-immigrant forces, and that has gotten out to Latinos around the country. And that's why Senator McCain is doing very poorly among Latinos around the United States.
SEIGEL: Federico Pena says to carry Colorado, Democrats have to win big in Denver. They have to win or run even in the swing counties outside the city, and they have to run in the high 30s or low 40s in GOP strongholds.
NORRIS: The one unknown here is voter turnout. Four years ago, we had a very large voter turnout in Colorado. I predict this year, we will beat that record. The other unpredictable is the youth vote. We're going to have an extraordinary youth vote. We have registered many, many people under the radar screen. Those two factors have not been polled by either the state polls or the national polls. And that's, I think, the silver lining in our campaign.
SEIGEL: We are in Monte Vista, Colorado, a four-hour drive southwest of Denver, in the parking lot in front of Kelloff's Best Western Movie Manor. From the motel rooms here, you can watch a movie through the window on the giant drive-in screen outdoors.
(SOUNDBITE OF REPUBLICAN ACTIVISTS' MEETING)
NORRIS: Which county are you with, sir?
NORRIS: Rio Grande.
NORRIS: Oh, good.
SIEGEL: Larry Trujillo has driven more that a hundred miles from his home near Pueblo, Colorado, and he has not come to see a movie. Trujillo has come to distribute yard signs, bumper stickers and encouragement to a dozen Republican activists from the San Luis Valley.
NORRIS: Hello, Larry Trujillo.
NORRIS: Larry Trujillo? Charlie Steel is my name. How are you, Larry?
NORRIS: Charlie, just fine.
SIEGEL: The local Republicans sound very enthusiastic about Sarah Palin, but their comments about the Colorado McCain campaign betray frustration with what several say has been a slow start.
U: Who's here representing McCain?
NORRIS: I am.
U: You are. Where have you been?
NORRIS: Where have I been?
U: Yeah, we haven't seen anybody from the McCain campaign.
NORRIS: Well, I've been meeting with your different chairmen here. This is the third trip I've made, getting the material out...
U: Have you seen him? I haven't seen him? This guy?
NORRIS: No, like I said, I've met with your county chairpeople.
U: But where has the McCain campaign been?
NORRIS: Oh, we're just now getting going down in here in the San Luis Valley. We are just now - we started it two weeks ago.
U: That's good.
NORRIS: And we'll be back probably on a weekly basis.
U: That's good. That's good. Better late than never.
SIEGEL: In the meeting room at Kelloff's restaurant, with a spectacular view of the San Juan Mountains behind him, Larry Trujillo talks to the local leaders. Several are Hispanic, like him. Trujillo's life is quite a personal journey from Democratic officeholder to Republican activist, from high school dropout to the Air Force and college on the GI Bill, to becoming a leader in the state legislature.
NORRIS: No other country can you do that. And I'm proud of that. And I get emotional about it because I love this country. Our people were here, a lot of the Hispanic people of the valley, from the 1500s and 1600s, and America came to us, and we became the United States. I'm not bitter about that. I thank the good Lord that that happened because we have a better life because it.
SIEGEL: This is an old crowd. Trujillo introduces Rudolfo Silver Jaramillo, a retired county school supervisor who was a pilot in World War II.
NORRIS: As a World War II veteran, and seeing what a concentration camp was all about in Weimar, Germany, and knowing what the next president, McCain, went through, makes me say that every veteran in the United States is committed to vote for him for what he went through for his country.
(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)
SIEGEL: There are Colorado veterans who are vehemently opposed to John McCain for voting against some VA spending. There are none of them in this room. The appeal to patriotism goes a long way with a group that has a strong history of military service. Republican Sam Nickerson of Rio Grande County, Colorado, says the McCain campaign should make an issue of a pickle plant in La Junta. It was shut down by its California-based parent company a few years ago.
NORRIS: Did you know that Michelle Obama was serving on the board of directors of that parent company and voted to close that pickle factory? How many knew that?
U: I didn't know, but I'm glad I know it, because I guarantee I'm going to spread the word in Otero County.
SIEGEL: Larry Trujillo has another beef with Obama and his family.
NORRIS: You know, Obama, either I can't remember whether it was either his father or himself, but I think it was his father, but it doesn't matter, because he said that his father gave him his values. They saw - his father saw, he said, nothing wrong with taxing citizens 100 percent of their wages providing, however, that in turn the government that would then do - take care of folks. We don't want to be taken care of by the government. Lord, that's the last thing we need. And those kinds of policies are policies that we don't need.
SIEGEL: I spoke with Larry Trujillo at the McCain campaign office in Colorado Springs. It's one of 10 in the state. The Obama campaign has 26. Larry Trujillo talked about the case for John McCain, even the issue that Federico Pena says is the Republican's particular problem with Latinos: immigration.
NORRIS: McCain, I think, wanted to have good, strong borders but also have a program, a work program, to allow people to come in, be identified, and then go back. And I think that's what is a plus-plus for McCain in Colorado.
SIEGEL: Colorado Republicans assume they will lose the Hispanic vote. The question is by how much.
NORRIS: I think you've got to get at least 25 percent of the Latino vote to do good. I think McCain will surpass that.
SIEGEL: In a Quinnipiac University-Wall Street Journal poll that came out this week, a poll showing Obama up by four points in this state, the McCain ticket was polling 26 percent of Hispanics. It looks like it's going to be close in Colorado. This is Robert Siegel.
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