Election 2012: 5 things to watch for in Latino vote

It is already a historic political year for Latinos, who are expected to have a big impact on the election in key states.

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney made extraordinary efforts to court the Latino vote, which included their participation at a forum organized by a Spanish-speaking television network that allowed the two to speak directly to the fastest-growing voting bloc.

Even as polls show Latinos care about the same issues as the rest of the nation and say the economy, jobs, education and health care are their top concerns, immigration has been the topic that grabs headlines and one the candidates have focused on to reach Hispanics.

Obama tried to redeem himself for failing to deliver on his 2008 promise to enact comprehensive immigration reform within a year of his election by granting administrative relief to hundreds of thousands of young immigrants brought to the United States illegally. Romney tried to look tough on immigration during the primary season but since has said he would not suspend the relief action and would work on an immigration reform, if elected.

Here are five things about the Latino vote to watch on Election Day:

1. VOTER TURNOUT

The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials estimates that 12.2 million Hispanics will vote this year. Most are in states like California, Texas, or New York, where they are not likely to make a difference in the outcome of the presidential race because those are not battlegrounds.

The Latino vote, however, in Florida will be crucial to determining the winner of that swing state. First, turnout is projected to be 34.5% higher than in 2008 and second, the state seems to be changing from a reliable Republican enclave in the southern part of the state, led by the Cuban-American community, to a more Democratic-inclined group in the center of the state along the Orlando-Tampa corridor, led by Puerto Ricans and other Hispanics.

Latinos are also being courted in other states -- including battleground Virginia and North Carolina, states that voted for Obama last time by small margins and showed big increases in Latino population, according to the 2010 Census.

In Nevada and Colorado, Hispanics already have clout and turnout will make a difference. Even in the most fiercely fought battleground state of Ohio, the candidates are running ads in Spanish and have ground games in place to encourage Latinos to vote. The Pew Center found that 166,000 of the more than 355,000 Latinos living in Ohio are registered to vote.

2. FLORIDA'S CUBAN VS. CUBAN RACE

The Republican monopoly on the Cuban-American community could be broken in the race for the 26th Congressional District.

Incumbent David Rivera is facing Democratic challenger Joe Garcia in a repeat race from two years ago. But the Miami Herald reports that Rivera is behind in the polls because of an FBI investigation into allegations he funneled money to one of Garcia's opponents in the primary.

A Garcia victory would most likely reflect changes to the district -- which now stretches to the more politically moderate Keys and skipping the western tip of South Florida that is traditionally more conservative -- than any ideological shift among the Cuban-American community. A recent Herald poll showed more than 76% of Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade County favored Mitt Romney.

3. TEXAS AND CALIFORNIA HISTORIC RACES

After a lengthy and bitter partisan fight to draw four new congressional districts to favor Latino candidates and reflect the increase of that group's population, only the 34th District in Texas along the Mexican border and the Gulf of Mexico has two Hispanic candidates: Democrat Filemon Vela and Republican Jessica Puente Bradshaw.

But the Hispanic representation in the U.S. House is not likely to increase since longtime El Paso representative, Silvestre Reyes, lost the Democratic primary in the 16th District to Robert O'Rourke, who gave himself the Latino sounding nickname "Beto."

Republican Barbara Carrasco is the challenger in that race but her chances of winning are, like Puente Bradshaw's, dim since both areas lean Democratic. An upset in either race would mean the first Latina congresswoman from Texas.

Another notable candidate is Joaquin Castro, who is in line to replace retiring Rep. Charlie Gonzalez in a safely Democratic district. Joaquin is the twin brother of Julian Castro, who gained national fame as keynote speaker of the Democratic National Convention.

The brightest spot for Hispanics in the Lone Star State is Republican Ted Cruz, who is poised to become the first Latino senator from Texas

In California, Dr. Raul Ruiz and former astronaut Juan Hernandez are trying to unseat incumbent Republicans while Juan Vargas is poised to replace Rep. Bob Filner, who is running for Mayor of San Diego.

4. MARYLAND'S DREAM ACT

Last year the Maryland Legislature approved a bill granting in-state tuition to students who are in the country illegally, a measure signed by Gov. Martin O'Malley.

But the bill was quickly challenged and opponents gathered enough signatures to force the issue onto a referendum which will be decided Tuesday.

A few states, including Texas and California, have similar laws but this is the first time voters get to decide the issue.

5. HAS SHERIFF JOE MET HIS MATCH?

"America's toughest sheriff" is seeking a sixth term in Maricopa County, Arizona. Joe Arpaio faces voters amid a series of accusations of corruption and federal investigations prompted by his stance against illegal immigration. Latinos in Arizona are fiercely campaigning for his defeat.

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