Monday, September 29, 2008

Hispanic Communities Tilt Toward Obama As They Look Beyond Immigration

By Dante Chinni

El Mirage, Ariz. – With the presidential election only six weeks away, this community, which is divided into Latino and Anglo neighborhoods, looks to be split on their choices overall. That may be a troubling sign for Sen. John McCain.

The issue of illegal immigration is a key focus in communities with large Hispanic populations like El Mirage (a community type we call “Immigration Nation”). It’s on a lot of minds here – especially when it comes to things like the border fence and raids on companies – but it does not appear to be driving a lot of votes.

“The two [candidates] are really pretty much the same on immigration,” says Rachel Gomez, an owner of the Rio Mirage restaurants in the area. “And who knows what they’ll do when they get in, anyway.”

One might think that would open the door for Senator McCain to reach into places like El Mirage, which historically have voted for Democratic candidates. After all, El Mirage is in McCain’s home state of Arizona. But the GOP in general is still not trusted by many Latino voters following the immigration battles of 2006.

On top of that, Hispanic and Latino voters, like the electorate in general, may simply be looking for a different direction for the country.

Ms. Gomez, who voted for President Bush in 2000 and 2004, says she is probably going to vote for Senator Obama in 2008. “The Republicans have had the Oval Office for eight years,” Gomez says. “They’ve had their chance.”

A deciding factor that pushed her away from McCain, she says, was his selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. “She has five children, and some small children. She could not function as a president,” Gomez says.

But El Mirage is not likely to wind up voting for Obama overall, says Robert Robles, a former mayor of the city. “I know the people who live in ‘old town’ are going to go for Obama, but I think the new people who have moved here in the last few years are going to vote for McCain,” he says.

The differences between “old” and “new” El Mirage are twofold: The old city tends to be less wealthy and heavily Hispanic; the new city, wealthier and Anglo. Also, more people live in the “new city.”

Another big factor is affecting El Mirage, however. All the growth the city has seen in recent years means the community is now taking big hits in the housing crunch.

In August, more than 11,000 homes in Maricopa County, the home of El Mirage, were in some state of foreclosure, according to RealtyTrac, a website that tracks foreclosure. That’s one out of every 134 homes.

McCain will almost certainly win his home state of Arizona. But the hard economic times in places like El Mirage, coupled with the large Hispanic vote, may mean he wins the state by a smaller margin than Mr. Bush did in 2004, which was 55 to 44 percent.

Polls, however, show Obama with a big lead among Hispanic voters. So in a larger sense, America’s “Immigration Nation” communities could end up playing a large role for the Illinois senator in swing states like Colorado and New Mexico.

Source: CsMonitor.Com

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