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And I'm David Greene. Good morning. Democrats in Colorado are trying to make immigration one of the key issues in a very tight U.S. Senate race there. Senator Mark Udall is fighting to hold onto his seat. He's getting a formidable challenge from Republican Congressman Cory Gardner. This is one of a handful of the races that could decide control of the Senate this fall. NPR's Kirk Sigler reports.
KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: To get an idea of how fast Colorado's demographics are changing, pay a visit to southwest Denver. A wave of immigrants from Mexico and El Salvador has settled in the neighborhoods around the intersection of Federal and Alameda Boulevards. Billboards are in Spanish. Taquerias and Asian noodle houses line the streets. In a small office plaza across from a carniceria, a group of Latino activists are staging a press conference to roll out their Immigration Voter Accountability Project.
SONJA MARQUEZ: What do we support? Families united not divided.
SIEGLER: Sonja Marquez, of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, says their main target is Republican Congressman and U.S. Senate candidate Cory Gardner.
MARQUEZ: All we have received was votes to deport Dreamers - no leadership, no action.
SIEGLER: Colorado's Latinos have been a reliable force for Democrats lately, but turnout in midterm elections is a perennial problem. And Democrat-leaning groups like these are worried. So Marquez and other clipboard-carrying, foot-soldiers are starting to hit the streets in neighborhoods like this. She says the plan is to make direct contact with 45,000 Latinos who voted in the last presidential election, but stayed home during the last midterm.
MARQUEZ: To you, Congressman Gardner - we are big; we are bad; we are organized; we are ready to go. And we - unlike you, we will deliver on our word and take action.
REPRESENTATIVE CORY GARDNER: It's a shame that some people are focused on politics instead of solutions. I have been focused on solutions in the House from the get-go and will continue to fight for immigration reform.
SIEGLER: For Gardner, immigration reform means a guest-worker program combined with more border security. He stopped short at saying he supports a path to citizenship, but lately he softened his language on immigration and distanced himself from the more hard-line Republicans in the House. But frankly, he has no choice - no longer is he running for a safe, Republican House seat in conservative northeast Colorado. This, after all, is a statewide race.
GARDNER: I'm not afraid to buck the party. I'm not afraid to do the right thing when I believe that somebody else is doing the wrong thing.
SIEGLER: Gardner recently broke Republican ranks and voted against a bill to repeal the president's deferred action program for children who were brought to the country illegally by their parents.
SENATOR MARK UDALL: There are a lot of people that think Congressman Gardner's positions haven't changed, but his ambitions have.
SIEGLER: Senator Mark Udall likes to point to Gardner's voting record as a state lawmaker here and his consistent, hard-line stance on illegal immigration, even as he represented a farming area that's heavily dependent on immigrant labor. Immigration has long been a lightning-rod issue in Colorado politics - and careful what you wish for. As Udall has made it issue again in this race, he's been forced to explain a vote he made as a congressman 8 years ago. It was in favor of a bill that made it a federal crime to be in the country illegally.
UDALL: It was 90 percent to the implementation of the 9-11 Commission's recommendations to keep our country safe. I did share my concerns about a couple of the provisions, but I'm very clear that I thought that was what we needed to do at that time.
SIEGLER: Still, the Udall campaign maintains a strong Latino turnout plays heavily in their favor. And recent elections back this up. But in a race where most polls show Udall with a razor-thin lead - no one's taking anything for granted. And for their part, Republicans are looking to make inroads in more traditional Democratic strongholds.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: He was driving around and he saw me, and he said, I'm going to stop by and see that man.
SIEGLER: In heavily Hispanic Pueblo, state Senator George Rivera is going door to door in a neighborhood near where he grew up. He's campaigning for his reelection and for Republicans in statewide races.
SENATOR GEORGE RIVERA: We point out to them who we are as Republicans and why our values tend to blend with that of the Hispanic culture.
SIEGLER: Last summer Rivera ousted a Democrat here in a high-profile recall election that centered on guns. Rivera says Republicans like Cory Gardner can make inroads with Colorado's fourth and fifth generation Latino communities by stressing their conservative values. He says immigration doesn't have to be the deal-breaker.
RIVERA: You don't actually - that does not come up all that much. Right now the bottom line is people are concerned about what hits their pocketbooks.
SIEGLER: The Colorado GOP has hired several Hispanic outreach coordinators to help candidates like Cory Gardner. A similar effort fell flat here during the 2012 presidential election. And this year's success or failure may depend more on Democratic turnout and whether Udall can keep immigration in the spotlight. Kirk Sigler, NPR News.
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