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US Hispanic Groups Face Challenge in Getting Out the Vote

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More than 19 million Hispanics are eligible to vote in Tuesday's midterm election, and Hispanic organizations are busy registering new voters in states like California. But a recent study by the Pew Hispanic Center suggests that Hispanics are less motivated to vote than they were two years ago.

Nicole Rivera of the group Voto Latino says the get-out-the-vote effort is underway among Hispanics, who are also called Latinos.  

"And the reason that we do it is because approximately 50,000 Latinos turn 18 every single month in the United States of America," she said.

Mark Hugo Lopez of the Pew Hispanic Center says three issues are the top concerns for Hispanic voters, according to a survey by his center. "Education, the economy and health care. Those were the three issues that Latinos pointed to as being of extreme importance to them personally," he said.

Nicole Rivera sees the same concerns among new Latino voters.

"They're coming out of college," she said. "They're worried about their job situation.  They're worried about the economy."

Steve Mendez has just registered to vote.

"To make my own difference and make a change in the world - at least in California," he said.

But many voters are discouraged.  

In Las Vegas, Nevada, a poor economy has left thousands of new Latino immigrants without jobs.  The Nevada unemployment rate is over 14 percent, the highest in the country.   Some Latinos at a suburban food bank rely on help from charity to feed their families.

Latinos are less likely to vote than other voters in this election, says the Pew Hispanic Center's Mark Hugo Lopez.

"We asked, 'Are you absolutely certain you are going to vote in this election cycle?'  And about half of registered Latino voters said that they were absolutely certain they were going to vote, compared with 70 percent of all registered voters," he said.

He says that across the country, many more Hispanics view the Democrats as concerned about their needs, but the survey shows Republican Latinos are more motivated to vote.

The poll shows that Hispanics are also concerned about immigration reform to regularize the status of the millions of Latinos in the country illegally.  

Latinos have complained about crackdowns in Arizona, where a controversial law that targets illegal immigrants has been partially blocked by the federal courts.  And in Colorado, former congressman Tom Tancredo, who is running for governor, has made border security and illegal immigration key themes in his campaign.

In California, Republican candidate for governor Meg Whitman has been criticized for hiring, and then summarily firing, a maid who was illegally in the country.  Whitman says she was unaware of the woman's status when she hired her.  Democrats hope the issue hurts her standing with Hispanics and helps her Democratic opponent, former California governor Jerry Brown.

Mark Hugo Lopez says the number of Hispanic voters has increased in each mid-term election since the 1980s.  And in states with  large immigrant populations, the Latino vote can swing the outcome in tight races, so the parties are emphasizing issues that resonate with Hispanics, and mobilizing to get Latinos to vote.

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