THE BLOG
10/03/2014 01:59 pm ET Updated Dec 03, 2014

In NC Senate Race, Candidates Must Deliver on the Issues That Matter to Latino Voters

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Three percentage points.

That's how close the race for North Carolina's Senate seat is, according to recent polling that puts incumbent Senator Kay Hagan with a 46 to 43 percent lead over challenger Thom Tillis, the current speaker of North Carolina's House of Representatives.

If you were Senator Hagan or State Speaker Tillis, would you take those three points for granted?

You shouldn't. In a contest this close, candidates must do all they can to win over every possible voter. A key electorate that is small but highly issue-driven, and one that both Tillis and Hagan would do well to court, are North Carolina's Latino voters.

It's true that Hispanic voters make up only a small portion of the North Carolina electorate -- 2 percent, in 2012. Yet Latinos, who make up 9 percent of North Carolina's population, are registering to vote every day. The North Carolina Latino vote is growing, and will continue to grow for the foreseeable future. Smart campaigning means doing all you can to court this electorate, which can be best won by delivering on the issues that motivate them.

What are the issues that will drive Latino voters to the polls this November?

Immigration reform, for one. Hispanic voters care deeply about fixing our broken immigration system. Most Latinos are not immigrants, of course -- but many are part of the 16.5 million Americans who live in mixed-status families, and many more know undocumented friends and coworkers who are profoundly affected by the ongoing lack of reform.

On immigration reform, neither candidate's record is currently fit to inspire Latino voters. While Senator Hagan did vote for the Senate's bipartisan immigration reform bill in 2013, more recently she has been falling short on the issue. The Senator has tirelessly lobbied President Obama to delay much-needed executive action on immigration policies, going so far as to side with Ted Cruz on this effort. Sure, Senator Hagan's in a tight race. But last-ditch attempts to appeal to anti-immigrant hardliners never won a moderate Democrat any new votes. Instead, such actions will only alienate the very Latino voters she needs to win this contest.

Fortunately for the incumbent Senator, her opponent has failed to capitalize on these recent immigration reform missteps. State Speaker Thom Tillis has offered voters little on the issue, being content to spout forth misinformation about the state of the border and to demagogue against the President taking executive action. If either candidate wants the edge in this race, they had better swiftly reshape their positions on immigration reform and executive action.

Beyond immigration, North Carolina's Latino voters will come to the polls simply to protect their right to vote. On voting rights, Tillis takes a heavy hit. In 2013 the North Carolina House of Representatives that Tillis lead passed a reprehensible law that decreased voting opportunities, ended same day registration, and required all voters to have an ID before they could exercise their constitutional right to choose their representatives. Senator Hagan, to her credit, asked the Department of Justice to review the law, an action that her opponents have called "frivolous." Speaker Tillis: Latino voters don't consider access to the ballot box "frivolous."

Neither candidate has proven an inspiring figure who will motivate Latinos to come to the polls in November. On protecting the right to vote, Hagan has shown herself to be on the right side, while Tillis' record can only hurt his chances with Hispanic voters.

The lesson is clear. Senator Hagan, Speaker Tillis: if you want to win this fall, it looks like you've got work to do on the issues that matter to Latino voters.