U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva and his two Democratic primary challengers, Amanda Aguirre and Juan Manuel Arreguin, all said that reaching Latino voters is an important part of their campaigns—but they don't give specifics on how they plan to do that, beyond canvassing neighborhoods.
Latino voters are characterized as a sleeping giant. Every election season, capturing the Latino vote is treated like a mystery or a science. So if this group—which tends to vote at a lower rate than others—is so important, what is being done to increase Latino voter turnout for the August primary and the November general election in Arizona?
Arizona Democratic Party executive director Luis Heredia said the party is working at the county level through volunteer development and communications specifically aimed at Latino families.
In a May essay at LAProgressive.com by Rudy Acuña, the Chicano-studies teacher and author delivered a critique of the Arizona Democratic Party, as well as its leaders and elected officials. Looking at the number of Latinos in Arizona and the number of Latinos elected, "You would think that there would be concern on the part of the national Democratic Party, and that it would spearhead a restructuring of the Arizona Democratic Party to reflect its presumed progressive agenda versus that of Tea Party Republicans."
Acuña wrote that the state party's strategy is to attract a conservative base, which contributes to the state's climate of racism and political apathy, and ignores the interests of Mexican-American voters.
Acuña followed up with another editorial regarding an email from Heredia defending the party. The writer went on to accuse Heredia and other Democrats of being delusional.
Heredia said he has read Acuña's critiques, and added that as a former student of the Chicano-studies teacher, Heredia understands what is going on statewide.
"Yes, Dr. Acuña called me delusional," Heredia said. "All I can say is that I hope history will show a different outcome, and that this is where I contributed to the change I thought was necessary."
Heredia said the effectiveness of the party's outreach to Latino voters depends on how much money it raises. He said the party is prepared to make a significant investment to reach Latino voters. When asked specifically how much, he would only say "significant."
The state party is focused on President Barack Obama's re-election campaign and Richard Carmona's U.S. Senate race, but a third priority is to "maximize Latino support in congressional districts and state legislative races," Heredia said.
Acuña isn't the party's only critic. When the party decided not to give Aguirre and Arreguin access to a database of detailed information about voters, known as VAN, because Grijalva is an incumbent, the challengers accused Heredia of keeping voters from having a choice.
Heredia said that decision and others like it are based on the party looking at exactly "who is supporting their campaigns." There is concern that Arreguin and Aguirre are supported by the Republican Party and corporate influences, he said.
Heredia said it will take a lot of work to reach the estimated 500,000 Latino voters in the state. More volunteers who speak Spanish to knock on doors are especially needed, he said.
On Oct. 11, early ballots for the November general election go out. One local effort, from Mi Familia Vota (a project affiliated with the Service Employees International Union), is aimed at getting Latinos who are eligible to vote to register and sign up for the permanent early-ballot list. Deyanira Martinez, the Southern Arizona program director, said she has five teams that canvass Latino-heavy precincts six days a week.
"In Pima County, there are 100,390 registered Latino voters, and there are estimated 45,000 unregistered," Martinez said. The group also targets the nearly 78,000 Latino voters who don't regularly vote. From that list, Mi Familia Vota has signed up 39,759 for the permanent early-ballot list.
One example of successfully getting Latino voters to the polls was Danny Valenzuela's 2011 run for the Phoenix City Council. Valenzuela was considered the underdog, and his team went after Latinos who normally don't vote. Campaign volunteers knocked on 72,000 doors, and the Latino turnout in Phoenix increased by 480 percent.
Randy Parraz, who organized the successful effort to recall former state Senator Russell Pearce and is now targeting Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio (who is running for re-election this year), said part of the problem is that there are not enough Latinos in Arizona involved in the state Democratic Party's leadership. They're not going to party meetings and pushing for more resources.
"It is a very complicated issue, and there isn't one group to blame, but, look, I think what we did in Mesa (to recall Pearce) showed that all you have to do is fight," Parraz said. "Perhaps the other problem is that the state party has a lack of creativity. No one looked at Mesa and saw promise."
Vince Rabago, a former candidate for state attorney general, started the Pima County Democratic Party Latino Caucus in 2008. The current election season has created a perfect storm for sparking Latino turnout, he said. Long-held anti-Mexican views by many in the state have been made worse by anti-immigrant legislation such as SB 1070 and rhetoric from the state's Republican leadership, he said.
Days after President Barack Obama's announcement that his administration was ending the deportations of immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, a new poll released by Latino Decisions and the pro-immigration reform group America's Voice showed the president had widened the lead over Mitt Romney among Latino registered voters in five key states, including Arizona.
"Can the parties do better at all levels? Sure," Rabago said. "This is also the time for Latinos to show they have a voice across this state."