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Latinos Ready to Make the Difference in Battleground States

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As the electoral map takes its final shape, we all know the contest inevitably will come down to a handful of states. Now, a new survey confirms that the outcome in some of those battleground states may be decided by Latino voters turning out in record numbers.

A poll of Latino registered voters released today by my organization, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund, shows strong support for Barack Obama in Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada, with an unusually close race in the typically Republican-leaning Latino community in Florida. But the poll also shows a significant percentage of Latino voters in those states are undecided and still open to persuasion.

In those four states, the survey finds tremendous enthusiasm among registered Latinos to cast ballots in November. Nearly 90% say they intend to vote on Election Day. Given the growing Latino electorate in states like Nevada, where 59,489 Latino voters have registered since 2004, high Latino turnout could determine the outcome.

To view the survey, click here.

According to the poll, Sen. Barack Obama leads Republican John McCain by wide margins among strong supporters: 63% - 15% in Colorado; 61% to 20% in New Mexico; and 55% to 14% in Nevada. In Florida, the battle for the Latino vote is a statistical tie at 38% for McCain and 35% for Obama, reflecting generational shifts and the changing composition of the Latino immigrant community there.

But significantly large numbers of Latino voters -- an average of around 20% in those states -- are either undecided or say their support for their chosen candidate is not strong, leaving them open to persuasion by the candidate who does the better job addressing their concerns. In Florida, about 25% of Latino voters may be persuadable, according to the poll.

What the survey reveals about Latino priorities is also interesting. The country has labored under the false assumption that immigration reform is the first -- some think the only -- issue Latinos care about.

In fact, as the survey reveals, Latino priorities are American priorities. Like the rest of the country, the economy is the top election issue for registered Latino voters, and it's easy to understand why. Nearly a third of respondents said they had trouble making their mortgage or rent payments at some point during the last twelve months.

Issues such as the war in Iraq, health care and immigration reform are also at the top of voters' minds.

And nearly a third believes there is no difference between the Republican and Democratic parties in their concern for Latinos, conveying both a challenge and opportunity to the parties and their leaders. The candidate who speaks most directly and effectively to the issues Latinos - and all Americans - care about will find himself in the White House in January.

[The bilingual telephone survey was commissioned by the NALEO Educational Fund (NALEO) working with the AARP and was conducted by the public opinion firm Latino. The firm surveyed 1,600 Latino registered voters drawn equally from official statewide voter files in the four states and has a margin of error of +/- 4.7% for each state.]

The NALEO Educational Fund is the leading organization that empowers Latinos to participate fully in the American political process, from citizenship to public service. The NALEO Educational Fund is a national non-profit, non-partisan organization whose constituency includes nearly 6,000 Latino elected and appointed officials nationwide.