La Raza Toils to Energize Latino Voters in Fla.

La Raza Toils to Energize Latino Voters in Fla.

By Alexis Simendinger - October 22, 2012

KENDALL, Fla. -- The perspiration on Meyra Garcia's face and her well-worn athletic shoes told a story Sunday as she knocked politely on door after door in this tidy middle-class and predominantly Hispanic suburb near Miami in Dade County.

Garcia, who is divorced and has a grown son, is a paid member of the National Council of La Raza's nonpartisan get-out-the-vote effort. Her assignment through Nov. 6 is to contact the registered voters whose names and addresses appear on lists furnished to her by NCLR via an iPod she signs out and then signs back in each time she works.

Garcia’s task is to discern if personal attention and encouragement might propel registered voters to follow through and cast their ballots, perhaps even to vote early (which in Florida is possible beginning Oct. 27). If they need help -- for instance to locate the right voting site, or figure out transportation to get there -- NCLR can offer guidance.

For seven months beginning in March, the regional team in Miami registered 34,000 new voters in Dade County, about 1,000 short of its initial goal. Success ultimately will be measured by Hispanic voter turnout by Nov. 6, said Natalie Carlier, NCLR’s 28-year-old Miami regional field coordinator with its department of civic engagement. Until a federal judge overturned a challenging requirement that the Florida government receive voter registration forms within 48 hours of completion, the NCLR’s registration goal seemed optimistic, Carlier added.

Canvassing to turn out votes, the successor to the registration phase, can be repetitive, often frustrating -- and in Dade County, uncomfortably hot. If questioned by potential voters, the NCLR team is permitted by law to support specific policies and legislation, and explain candidates’ positions, but canvassers are instructed not to advocate for specific candidates.

Some residents, annoyed or suspicious, declined on Sunday to chat with Garcia in Spanish or English. The rejections did not erase the pleasant expression on her face as she carried her clipboard and literature to the next address. Barely slowing her pace, Garcia plugged her information into the device in her hand. Her data was uploaded from the iPod at the end of her shift into a vast, shared voter-contact database tailored for NCLR (using the Voter Action Network, a system originally created under the guidance of Obama for America.) It’s just one of many tracking systems that afford snapshots of the 2012 electorate in key states.

In Florida, Mitt Romney leads President Obama by 2.1 points in the RCP Average as the two candidates prepare for their third and final debate Monday night in Boca Raton, north of Miami. In 2008, South Florida propelled Obama’s victory over John McCain. He captured 67 percent of the votes in Broward County; 61 percent in Palm Beach County; and 58 percent in Miami-Dade. Predictions are not nearly as robust for the incumbent this time around.

But Obama’s campaign team continues to argue that lining up at least 270 votes in the Electoral College can succeed without Florida and its prized 29. The president and Joe Biden hold frequent rallies in the state and their advisers believe the administration’s posture on Medicare, immigration and women’s issues, plus the campaign’s operations on the ground, will make the difference.

The 2008 contest in the Sunshine State played to Obama’s strengths. “A lot of people were motivated in certain ways that is not as apparent this year, but as Election Day nears, I think more and more people are going to get out and vote,” Carlier said. “I haven’t come across too many people who don’t know who they’re voting for.”

The Hispanic community is so diverse, she noted, it’s difficult to gauge anecdotally how voter sentiments for either candidate will eventually stack up. “I think people here feel that Florida is a very important state and can make or break a candidate’s election,” Carlier added. “People are animated. They’re talking about it.”

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Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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