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Battle For The West: Fighting For Latino Voters

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A cutout of Barack Obama at a Mexican Independence Day celebration in Denver last month (Getty Images)

New Mexico took center stage over the weekend on a 20-minute segment -- New Voters in the New West -- on NOW in PBS. Reporter Maria Hinojosa calls New Mexico "the battleground of battleground states" as she follows both campaigns' efforts in the state. The report focuses on young voters and Latinos.

In 2004, Republicans won the state by just shy of 6,000 votes. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who campaigned for Sen. John Kerry in 2004 and is trying to deliver the state in November for Sen. Barack Obama told Hinojosa, "Senator Kerry is still mad at me."

Obama has 39 field offices in the state compared to 10 for McCain and 6 for Kerry last cycle. The PBS report tries to run against conventional wisdom, following around a group of college-aged McCain supporters and highlighting lingering concerns among the usually Democratic-leaning Latino community.

"It's risky for Obama's campaign to assume that we're going to vote Democrat just because we're registered Democrat," community activisit Arturo Uribe said. Uribe, who is seen encouraging community members to register to vote but not backing a candidate in the report, said race, religion, and other factors mean Obama can't take the Latino community for granted. He also said some Latinos worry that with an African-American president, blacks would become the "preferred minority."

"I'd rather go with the old man," one middle aged Latino man told a group of Obama canvassers. "He's got the experience."

In a poll of New Mexico voters conducted last week for the Albuquerque Journal, "62 percent of Hispanics surveyed favored Obama, while 17 percent backed McCain and 21 percent were undecided." Brian Sanderoff, president of the firm that conducted the poll, estimated that Bush carried up to 38 percent of the Latino vote in the state in 2004. Among all likely voters polled,Obama is ahead of McCain 45 to 40 percent.

In Colorado, where Latinos are expected to account for more than 10 percent of voters for the first time and could thus determine who carries the state, a recent poll has Obama ahead of McCain among Latino voters 68 to 26 percent.

The Obama campaign's registration and get out the vote efforts are bolstered by nonprofit groups that target low income communities, including many that are predominately Latino. The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), a coalition of groups targeting low income families, announced today that it exceeded goals in Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico in its voter registration efforts with Project Vote.

A subset of Latinos being courted are new citizens. Jeffrey Passel, a senior demographer with the Pew Hispanic Center, told the AP, "In places where the election is very close, they make all the difference in the world," New citizens, like other first time voters, are excited to cast their first ballot and tend to be good ambassadors in their communities, either for particular candidates or simply to promote the importance of civic engagement.

"We can make the difference in these elections," Arturo Munoz, a Salvadoran native who became a U.S. citizen in August, told the AP through a translator. "If more Hispanics vote, the future president will have to address topics important to them."

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Read the rest of the Battle For The West Daily Digest here.