Elsa Barnhill, the Republican National Committee's Nevada director of Hispanic outreach, adhering to the GOP's national strategy, immediately started work on a network of bilingual volunteers when she took the post in April.
"This year we've had a really heavy focus on voter contact," Barnhill said from an east Las Vegas Romney campaign office that was opened in September with a visit from Craig Romney, the Spanish-speaking son of the former Massachusetts governor.
"It seems kind of simple, but you'd be surprised. In prior years, Hispanic outreach actually, a lot of times, consisted of attending events, festivals in the community. Of course I'm not downplaying the importance of those. We've certainly done those things, as well, this year, but we've focused really aggressively on contacting all Hispanic voters," said Barnhill, who set up a volunteer staff of 400 bilingual volunteers who could staff phone banks, contact voters and be liaisons for Romney in the community.
At a recent Romney event, Hispanic supporters filled out postcards in Spanish explaining why they supported the GOP candidate. Those postcards are being mailed this week to voters who need to be swayed.
"As far as the Republican Party goes, each cycle we'll show we're committed to winning the Latino vote, to swaying people and to having them listen to our side. And you'll see more and more involvement every cycle," Barnhill said, noting the RNC started running Spanish-language ads as early as January.
Much like the GOP strategy that relies on tried-and-true personal interactions, the Obama campaign and its supporters are placing the most importance on real contact.
"It's all part of the model that Obama for America started in 2008," said Andres Ramirez, president of political consulting group Ramirez Group and the vice chair of the Democratic National Committee's Hispanic Caucus. "It's not just having all of the offices across the country; it's also having them staffed with volunteers making phone calls and knocking on doors. The evaluation metric of campaigns is not doors knocked on but the number of conversations you've had. That's the single-most valuable metric."
Both sides have flooded Spanish-language media with advertisements, setting records for spending in the process.
According to analysts Kantar Media, more than $4 million has been spent in 2012 in Las Vegas on political ads running on Univision and Telemundo, compared with a combined $600,000 spent on political ads at those two TV stations in 2008.
Ramirez said the campaign had moved to integrate more social media into its outreach efforts as more and more people use services like Twitter and Facebook, but one-on-one interactions still are the bricks with which a winning campaign is built.
Hispanic voters are not just getting attention from the presidential candidates and their respective parties, but several outside groups, as well.
Fernando Romero, president of the Las Vegas civic engagement group Hispanics in Politics and a local coordinator for National Council of La Raza Action Fund's efforts to register voters, said he believed enthusiasm was equal to 2008 but the increase in political groups had helped cast a wider net.
"I see more organizations being involved on both sides of the aisle," Romero said. "About four years ago, we didn't have as many conservative organizations out there that we do now. There's more of both conservative and progressive organizations, and they've been very active in the community."
In Nevada, all of the outreach has seemingly paid off in the registration numbers. According to an analysis by Ramirez using Clark County Election Department data for April to October, the number of registered voters with Spanish surnames has increased 37 percent this year compared with an overall registration gain of 26 percent.
Voters with Spanish surnames are turning out to early voting stations in record numbers, but so are all Nevadans. It is unclear if Nevada's Hispanics will surpass the 15 percent of the electorate they have constituted in the most recent elections, but the raw numbers will be higher.
All of the analysts and campaign organizers agree the Hispanic electorate is here to stay as an influential force.
"I think is going to be an ongoing trend," Romero said of the rapid growth of the Hispanic electorate and its influence in politics. "Hispanic voters are realizing that their vote does count. We are getting more involved and are becoming more of a factor in the outcome of elections every year. I believe it's going to stay that way. ... More and more groups are reaching out and, as a relatively young demographic, the number of Latinos voting will only grow. Our interest will not wane."
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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