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Many, But Not All, Hispanic Voters Swing to Obama

(UNDATED) Naomi Gonzalez grew up poor in Chicago, bouncing among nine foster homes while her father served time in prison. The single mother of four believes Barack Obama understands her struggle.
“He’s come from poverty, he comes from a single mother, he’s experienced racism,” said Gonzalez, 30, “A lot of us can relate to him.”
Gonzalez, of Grand Rapids, Mich., typifies a surprisingly strong source of support for Obama: Latino Protestants. A new poll finds Obama enjoying a nearly 17-point lead in that group over John McCain.
And while Obama can count on even stronger support among Hispanic Catholics, it’s hardly uniform.
Mercedes Toohey backs McCain because of his stance against abortion, his military experience and his bipartisan approach to immigration reform.
“To me, John McCain’s experience, dedication and service to the country would make him a far better president,” said Toohey, 64, a member of St. Mary Catholic Church in Grand Rapids.
She and Gonzalez are part of a Hispanic voting bloc that could be a swing vote in the election, researchers say. They point to an apparent shift of Hispanic Protestants who supported President Bush in 2004 to Obama this year.
“The Latino Protestant vote comprises about 2.5 percent of the electorate, so the shift may be important — particularly if these Latino voters are found in swing states,” said Corwin Smidt, executive director of the Paul B. Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics at Calvin College.
Hispanics carry considerable clout in New Mexico, Florida, Nevada and Colorado — states Bush won by slim margins in 2004, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research group based in Washington, D.C.
“In these battleground states, Latinos could be an important part of the vote,” said Mark Hugo Lopez, Pew center associate director.
As Hispanics grow in numbers — at 46 million, they are America’s fastest-growing minority group — so does their political influence. And the votes of many are deeply rooted in their faith.
Turnout of Hispanic voters figures to be higher partly because of strong concern about immigration and the economy, Lopez said. The voter pool also is growing, he said, noting that every month about 50,000 Hispanics turn 18.
Immigration and abortion also weigh heavy on the minds of Hispanic voters.
In a recent survey of Hispanic Protestants, 77 percent said their religious beliefs influence their views on immigration. Nearly 80 percent said a candidate’s position on that issue was important to their vote.
Sponsored by several groups, the survey also showed 31 percent would change their political party if it did not support a more welcoming immigration policy.
The findings show Latino Protestants are volatile “values voters” neither party can afford to ignore, survey authors said.
“Hispanic values voters will not be confined to one party,” said the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. “We will vote our faith and vote our values. It’s time all candidates take notice.”
He called immigration a “profoundly religious issue” for Hispanic evangelicals, adding, “The biblical mandate to welcome the immigrant could not be clearer.”
Latino Protestants believe Democrats are more welcoming than Republicans, the poll indicates. It’s one reason why they are swinging toward Obama now after 63 percent supported Bush in 2004.
More than 40 percent associate negative rhetoric about immigrants with Republicans. That hurts McCain, even though he worked on a bipartisan reform bill with Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass.
“Are we going to vote for a party that resonates with us on life and marriage issues but doesn’t necessarily want us, since they tolerated a very strong xenophobic rhetoric from many of their candidates?” Rodriguez said.
While abortion is a key concern for Latinos, they are not “one-issue voters,” added Gaston Espinosa, editor of the recently released “Race, Religion and the American Presidency.”
“Latinos tend to take a holistic approach in terms of how they frame who they vote for,” said Espinosa, associate professor of religious studies at Claremont McKenna College in California. “They’re looking at that through the lens of faith and asking, ‘What would Jesus do in respect to the broader picture?”‘
For Toohey, the broader picture frames McCain as the best pick. Her conviction is shaped by her biblical values and immigrant experience.
The wife of a Vietnam veteran says McCain has the best plan to end the Iraq war. She also argues he is the only candidate who has done anything for immigration reform.
“I haven’t seen anything from Sen. Obama that could tell me, `I really feel strongly on how to deal with immigration,”‘ she said. “At least we have a plan with Sen. McCain.”
Gonzalez, meanwhile, is less concerned about immigration than with the economic woes she sees in her neighborhood and beyond. A Chicago native of Puerto Rican descent, she said minorities like her “see themselves in” Obama, she said.
“He literally came from food stamps to a presidential nominee, and that’s huge,” Gonzalez said. “It’s like there’s poverty and there’s wealth, and there’s a bridge that crosses it. He’s proof that you can cross that bridge.”
2008 Religion News Service
Copyright 2008 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

  • Henrietta22

    Gonzales has said it very well! He’s truly a man for all seasons. He reminds me of my deceased son who cared for everybody, who was honest, confident, and made you feel safe and happy when you were around him. I can hardly wait until tuesday!!

  • pagansister

    No group should be ignored. From some things I read, the Hispanics are gaining in population in this country so no candidate for any office, is going to ignore them. All votes count.

  • Brittanicus

    1. The number of illegal aliens already here – an estimated 37 million according to the Tucson sector Border Patrol union local 2544 (with an additional half-million coming every year) a massive financial impact on our economy by importing the worlds poor.
    2. The Americans who are losing jobs to cheap immigrant labor. In a 1996 study, a Rice University economist estimated that illegal aliens were then displacing 730,000 American workers a year.
    3. The costs to taxpayer for welfare, emergency medical services, education, law enforcement and incarceration for “illegal immigrants” and their dependents -and thousands of State, county welfare is estimated at more than a Trillion dollars.

  • nnmns

    Anyone who thinks McCain’s military experience means he’d be a good CIC overlooks the fact he enthusiastically supported Bush’s excursion into Iraq when we could have caught the leaders of Al Qaeda instead. One of the main reasons wars have been lost was that one side used the previous generation’s strategies. McCain shows every sign of doing that, Obama would get advice from a lot of sources and I think he’ll do a good job.

  • Angel Premo

    i am only 13, but i love the politics and social studies. i hear alot of good and bad things about Obama but my mom voted for him she likes how he lives, makes speeches and his politics!

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