HOUSTON - Hispanics represent the fastest-growing minority in the United States and an increasingly important segment of the voting population, especially in so-called swing states like Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada, where they could play a decisive role in the U.S. presidential election in November. Recent opinion surveys show Hispanics favoring President Obama two-to-one over the presumptive Republican nominee, Mitt Romney.
Luis Torres and Willie Fernandez run a Houston company that does completion work on construction projects.
But when it comes to politics, they differ, with Fernandez being more critical of President Obama, the Democratic Party candidate.
“Look at the deficit we are in now, economically,” Fernandez said.
“I don't think that is all due to Obama; it all came from before,” said Torres.
“No, but $15 billion in the first year...” noted Fernandez.
“Well, he has inherited a lot of this,” replied Torres.
But, while Torres defends President Obama, he is still not sure how he will vote in November.
“The last time I voted for Obama. I am disappointed in what he has done. I mean, he has really not done much. , I don't know if it is all due to the politics that are in play, but he has not fulfilled the promises that he made,” Torres said.
In recent speeches, President Obama has argued that he needs more time to deal with the nation's enormous problems.
“I know we have gone through some tough years and I know that for all the things we have done, we still have so much undone,” Obama said.
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney discussed the economy in a recent speech in Washington to a group of Hispanic small business owners.
“I know your prosperity means greater opportunity, for you, for your families, for your employees, for your communities and for the nation,” Romney said.
What Romney did not mention was his hard-line policy on illegal immigration, which some Hispanic supporters, like Willie Fernandez, find troubling.
“Here you have to look at who is the worst of all evils, I mean the reality. Am I happy with him? No, I am not. Am I happy with Obama? No, I am not,” Fernandez said.
Both Torres and Fernandez are naturalized U.S. citizens; Torres came from Colombia, Fernandez from Cuba. They both favor some form of immigration reform and think it would be counterproductive to deport millions of laborers who are needed here.
Another issue of concern to Luis Torres is that the number of Hispanic elected officials does not match the size of the Hispanic population in many states and Hispanic voting rates are generally low.
“Hispanics have to get behind their candidates and get them elected so that they can have more representation,” Torres said.
But Willie Fernandez thinks the ethnicity of candidates is often over-emphasized.
“If you are elected by the people, you should represent the people, whoever you are. You can't bend it to one ethnic group or another, you have to represent the people,” Fernandez said.
Both men strongly believe in the democratic system and plan to vote in November, but neither one is entirely sure whom they will support.