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Latino voters played key role in California races, other national contests, survey finds

November 3, 2010 |  2:30 pm

Advocacy groups are touting results from a pre-election survey that showed Latino influence in deciding elections in eight states, including California.

Latino voters overwhelmingly supported California’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown and U.S. Senate incumbent Barbara Boxer over their respective Republican rivals Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina, according to polls conducted by Latino Decisions and sponsored by the National Council of La Raza, Service Employees International Union and America’s Voice.

The Democratic candidates each drew support from 86% of the Latino voters polled, according to the survey. Jerry Brown won the election with nearly 54% of the overall vote, while Boxer won reelection with 52%.

“The first critical takeaway I would offer is that the GOP wave stops in California,” said Gary Segura, a senior researcher with Latino Decisions and professor at Stanford University. “There was virtually no evidence of the GOP wave in the state with the largest Latino population.”

The poll reached 3,200 “extremely likely” voters in phone interviews between Oct. 28 and Nov. 1, with a reported a margin of error of plus or minus 4.2% for state data and 1.7% for national data.

On a national level, Segura pointed to the Latino vote as the likely saving grace for the Democrats’ Senate majority and particularly for  Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada. According to the poll, Latinos supported Reid by an overwhelming margin -- 90% favored the Democratic compared with 8% for Republican Sharron Angle.

Advocates said Angle’s anti-illegal immigrant rhetoric and Reid’s decision to bring up the DREAM Act -- which would offer a path to citizenship for certain young people who were brought to the United States illegally as minors -- for a Senate vote in September brought Latino voters to the polls.

“That combination helped to motivate Latino voters in a way that saved Harry Reid’s race,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice.

On the other hand, a number of Republican Latino candidates won their races, including Senate candidate Marco Rubio in Florida, House candidates Jaime Herrera in Washington and Bill Flores in Texas, and gubernatorial candidate Susana Martinez in New Mexico. Gloria Montaño Greene, director of the Washington, D.C., office of the National Assn. of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Education Fund, said the fact that Latino voters or candidates aided both parties is not a contradiction.

“I think both sides are evidence of the overall influence of the Latino vote,” she said.

In the poll, Latino voters cited jobs, the economy and immigration as the top issues that drew them to the polls in 2010. Californian Latinos were more approving of the Obama administration’s handling of immigration, with 54% of California respondents saying they approved, compared with 49% nationwide.

--Abby Sewell