- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 27, 2016

Ralph Isenberg has camped outside the government center in a heavily Hispanic section of Dallas this week, watching people line up to renew their car registrations or get driver’s licenses. But they are ignoring the early-voting booth right next door, seemingly disinterested in this year’s elections.

It’s a scene playing out across the country, where Hispanic leaders say the presidential campaigns are ignoring the vast majority of their community because they don’t live in battleground states, undermining the ethnic group’s chance to prove its growing political muscle.

In Nevada, Arizona and Florida, Hispanics are being bombarded with information and outreach from campaigns. But in California, New York and particularly Texas, less than one-third reported having been reached by any candidate, campaign or political party this year.

That could cost Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton even the remote chance of winning Texas, analysts said.

“We are in the home stretch of this election, and yet the majority of Latino voters in three of the four states home to the largest Latino populations are still being ignored,” said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials’ educational fund.

He predicted that Hispanics will turn out but said it “will be in spite of the anemic efforts made by the candidates and campaigns in 2016, not because of them.”

Mr. Isenberg, though, said he is not sure Hispanics will turn out given what he is seeing in Texas.

He and his team at the Isenberg Center for Immigration Empowerment have been watching the in-person early voting line at the government building on Beckley Avenue in Dallas. The line for the motor vehicles bureau is mostly Hispanic, but only 15 percent of early voters are. The majority of the voters are black, he said.

“I am clearly a Clinton supporter; that’s my personal choice. Texas is supposedly a toss-up state now, to where Clinton is within 3 percent of being able to grab Texas,” he said. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out if you had more Hispanics voting that that 3 percent could be made up in no time at all.”

Mr. Isenberg said Mrs. Clinton has only one small campaign sign outside the polling place, swamped by dozens of signs for congressional and other local races. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who vowed to make a play for Hispanic voters this year, doesn’t have any signs at the polling place.

Neither Mrs. Clinton’s campaign nor the Texas Democratic Party responded to messages seeking comment on their efforts to boost Hispanic turnout either nationally or in Texas.

Mr. Isenberg said he plans to print signs urging Hispanics to turn out. Playing on his home state’s unofficial motto, his signs will read, in Spanish, “Mess with Texas — vote early.”

The Hispanic voting bloc has long been a conundrum for both political parties and for the community’s own leaders.

Analysts say the majority of Hispanics look like other Democratic voters, based on their overall socioeconomic status and on their use of welfare programs. Those political preferences have been strengthened in recent years by Democrats’ ability to outbid Republicans when it comes to forgiveness of illegal immigrants’ past behavior.

Polling conducted for the National Council of La Raza found Hispanics overwhelmingly in favor of Obamacare and want it to add a government-run public option. Young Hispanics want more government assistance to cover the cost of college. Both are positions held by Mrs. Clinton.

But Hispanic leaders, wary of becoming reliable Democrats, insist their community is up for grabs and deserves attention from both parties.

Advocacy groups vowed to naturalize 1 million legal immigrants eligible for citizenship, then get them registered in time to vote this year. Spanish-language media and immigrant rights groups said they would make major drives to turn out voters.

Some of the groups, though, said they didn’t see those kinds of investments.

“It is time that the political and funding communities finally put their money where their mouths are by making the investments necessary now to engage Latinos for 2020, 2024 and beyond if we want the nation’s second-largest population group to realize its true political potential once and for all,” Mr. Vargas said.

His group’s polling showed that in states where Hispanic voters reported the least engagement by a campaign, they were also the least likely to turn out to vote.

America’s Voice, an immigrant rights advocacy group, warned against counting out Hispanics.

The group pointed to the 2010 elections, when polling showed Sen. Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, was headed for a defeat. Mr. Reid won a final term and credited his victory to a massive turnout of Hispanic voters.

Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, said pollsters need to do a better job of surveying Hispanic voters so they understand turnout and preferences. He predicted that the Hispanic vote will be a “huge factor” in Florida, Nevada, Colorado, Arizona, North Carolina, Virginia “and, yes, Texas.”

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