The Latino vote in Wisconsin clearly isn't as big and decisive as in some states, like Nevada, Colorado or Florida, but it matters in a swing state with a booming Hispanic population.
And this election, growing and concerted efforts to get out the Hispanic vote paid off.
More important, those efforts will lay the groundwork for the future, partisan and nonpartisan sources agreed.
An analysis of the Nov. 6 election by the Pew Hispanic Center based on exit polls indicated that:
Nationally, Latinos made up 10% of the electorate, up from 9% in 2008 and 8% in 2004.
In Wisconsin, the Hispanic voters made up 4% this year, up from 3% in 2008 and 2% in 2004.
Nationally, President Barack Obama received 71% of the Latino vote, while Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney received 27%.
In Wisconsin, the president won 65% of the Hispanic vote.
And while the state's Latinos make up 5.9% of the population, it has grown 74% since the 2008 election.
Historically, voter turnout among Latinos in Milwaukee has been low. But this time voter turnout in wards with large Latino populations increased by as much as 68% compared with four years ago, according to Voces de la Frontera Action, the politically active arm of the agency. It targeted the 22 Milwaukee wards with the highest concentration of Latinos.
Voces organized 250 volunteers, knocked on 24,278 doors and made 9,469 phone calls to Latino voters in Milwaukee, Kenosha, Green Bay, Lake Geneva and Walworth County, said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, the executive director of Voces.
"Voces has been working for many years now to create a culture of participation in the Latino community . . . and we're seeing the fruits of that labor," she said. Obama's campaign also made an early and important commitment to the Latino vote in the state, said state Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa, a Milwaukee Democrat and the lone Hispanic in the state Legislature, who was state chair of Latinos for Obama.
An office on S. 5th St. opened in March, and Ben Juarez was hired as statewide outreach director for the effort, she said.
"In Milwaukee we worked hard to have visibility across the board, and I believe it paid off," Zamarripa said.
Too often political parties and campaigns sweep in at the eleventh hour and open an office to show they're trying to increase diversity, she said.
"The Obama team wanted to make sure to have people in positions of power in the campaign and not just voluntary leaders," she said. "They made a sincere commitment to earn the support and vote of the community."
In addition to getting people to rallies, the word was spread on Facebook and Twitter, she added.
At the national level, the Democrats made a strategic decision to invest in the Latino vote in swing states, said Enrique Figueroa, director of the Roberto Hernandez Center at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. That helped raise participation from 3% to 4%, he said.
"It's important because that lays the foundation for future elections, and the Latino vote will keep growing," he said.
The Council for the Spanish Speaking ran a nonpartisan get-out-the-vote drive. It also helped develop a bilingual rap video on YouTube aimed at the growing young Latino population. Tony Baez, president and CEO of the council, said that in addition to a door to door campaign he spoke to groups at Head Start parent meetings, soccer leagues and other classes, urging Latinos to vote.
Information also was provided on where to vote, what's required to cast a ballot and navigating the ballot, he said. The organization received a $4,000 grant from Wisconsin Voices for the vote drive, he said.
With the changing demographics there's also incredible growth, he said.
"Nationally, every month 50,000 Latinos turn 18, and young people are beginning to take more seriously their civic function," he said.
While the drive for Latino voters showed results for Democrats, Republican efforts weren't as visible.
When asked about Republican efforts to reach Latinos, Nathan Conrad, communications director for the Republican Party of Wisconsin, said the party "reached out to all voters across the state with an impressive and unprecedented ground game effort," but he did not mention specifics.
Ivan Gamboa, a Republican who ran the Milwaukee office in 2004 to get Latinos to vote for George W. Bush, said Romney's campaign didn't do much to court Latino voters.
"There was no strategic plan, and the results correlate with that effort," he said. "Frankly, the Republican Party doesn't understand the Latino community.
"There are a lot of shared values between Republicans and the Hispanic community, but if we feel we're being insulted on issues like the Dream Act, we won't pay attention."
While he supported Romney, Gamboa said Republicans need to find a way to reach Latinos or "we will be irrelevant."
In Wisconsin, he said, Gov. Scott Walker works with the Latino community and he sees that as a hopeful sign for the future.
Waukesha Pastor Joe Medina, who is the chair of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly, said more could have been done.
"We know that things must be different and we're having a meeting with GOP leaders next week to review the numbers, what they mean and why we only received 30% of the Latino vote," he said.
And he added: "I can assure you, this will be the last time the Hispanic vote will be overlooked."
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