11/15/2007 06:35 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Latinos Step Up

It's hard to predict much about November 2008 from the vantage point of November 2007. But one thing is going to be a demographic certainty: the road to the White House passes through the Latino community.

The importance of the Latino vote in next year's elections is getting some attention thanks to the Democratic presidential debate in Nevada, a key early primary state where almost a quarter of voters are Latino.

The Latino vote has also gotten brief mention in some print media over the past year.

But this story -- really, this growing reality -- is not breaking through on cable news, or gaining a strong presence on the web. Candidates in both parties should be reminded of the scope of Latino electoral clout across the nation, and the momentous consequences of the Latino vote on who wins in 2008 and beyond.

I hardly have to say anything about the influence of the states where the most Latinos live. Small shifts in the voting habits of Latino Floridians, who make up around 15% of the population, could have swung the entire election in 2000 and 2004.

But it's not just Florida. How truly national the Latino vote is becomes clear when we look at the electoral math. If you add up all the electoral votes cast by states where Latinos make up 10% or more of the population, you get 228. That's just a few states short of the 270 votes necessary to win.

Every year, more states in the American West become swing states. And every year, more Latinos live in those states. I'm certainly proud of the vision shown by my party in choosing Denver as the site of next year's convention. It's a city smack in the middle of a swing state and smack in the middle of territory where there are Latino votes to be won.

And what's going to amplify our community's electoral presence even more next year is the influence states with large Latino populations have on the primaries. Look at the calendar.

Nevada will likely vote soon after Iowa and New Hampshire on the Democratic side. It's population: 24% Latino.

Then we get to February 5, which might as well be called "Super Martes". California, with more delegates than anywhere else: 35% Latino.

New York, Arizona, New Mexico, Illinois, Connecticut, Utah and my home state of New Jersey - all heavily Latino. Rich with delegates. All holding primaries on February 5.

Latinos are more than just a growing political group. Our influence in key states means that we could hold the key to the party nominations, and after that, the White House.

When we look at those realities, we're talking about more than just Latinos holding the key to the White House. We're talking about an election that is going to be truly transformational.

Here's the bottom line: if my party continue to seize the issues important to Latino voters, issues the party has consistently led on - universal health care, real educational opportunities, economic empowerment, stronger families, comprehensive immigration reform and changing our course in Iraq - then we will see record numbers of Latinos come out to vote, we will see a Democratic president and we will see a president more responsive to our community than ever before.

Every candidate, everyone running for Congress, for the Senate, for assemblyman and sheriff and dogcatcher, everyone who wants to win the confidence of Latino voters, must advocate for the values we hold dear: compassion, fairness, opportunity, and dedication to family.

These are values that resonate with every hard-working Latino American. And if these are the values the Democratic Party champions, then in 2008, the two groups are going to converge in a powerful transformational movement for change.