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Updated Oct 24, 2012 - 7:47 am

Report predicts increase in Latino vote in Arizona

WASHINGTON -- The number of Latinos going to the polls in Arizona for next month's presidential election could jump as much as 23 percent from their turnout in 2008, according to a new report.

The report by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials projects that 359,000 Arizona Latinos will vote this year, up from about 291,000 in 2008.

The Arizona increase reflects an overall surge in registered Latino voters nationwide and an expected increase in turnout nationally from 9.7 million in 2008 to an estimated 12.2 million on Nov. 6, the report said.

If true, it would be the third straight presidential election in which the number of Latino voters grew.

While the Latino vote in Arizona dipped from 2004 to 2008, NALEO executive director Arturo Vargas said there are several factors specific to the state that could drive up voting by that group this year.

"One is Richard Carmona's ethnicity. I think there is a level of ethnic pride," Vargas said of the Democratic nominee for Senate who is of Puerto Rican heritage.

"Also what has been significant here is how the community has been catalyzed by SB 1070," the state's controversial immigration law, he said.

"And [Maricopa County] Sheriff Joe Arpaio's attack on the Latino community has served to really motivate an electorate to participate in ways it hasn't in previous elections."

A spokesman for Arizona Republicans said in an email Tuesday that the party welcomes more participation by Latino voters this year, but he disputed Vargas' claims as to what might drive an increase.

Tim Sifert disparaged Carmona's candidacy as little more than attempt to get someone who will "rubber-stamp the policies of the Obama administration." As for Arpaio, he said, "voters support his efforts to fight crime."

"Sheriff Arpaio's role in Maricopa County is to enforce the law and he's doing a great job," Sifert said.

He said Latino voters "share the same values of family and freedom, hard work and free enterprise, and a pro-business atmosphere" that are valued by the Republican Party.

"The welcome mat is out and the door is open," Sifert said.

The welcome mat is also out for the state's Democrats, who hope that the prediction of 359,000 Latino voters next month is low.

"It is a reasonable number, but we are hoping that they're under-predicting," said Frank Camacho, a spokesman for the Arizona Democratic Party.

"We have made Latino voters and Latino turnout a priority," he said. "We are optimistic that the turnout will be significantly higher than two or even four years ago."

Like Vargas, Camacho pointed to Carmona, Arpaio and SB 1070 as reasons for an increase.

"Arpaio has affected the Latino community here," Camacho said. "There is a lot of hope brewing to unseat him. [Democratic challenger] Paul Penzone has earned the trust of the community, he is well known and the strongest opponent that Arpaio has ever had to face."

NALEO reports that 47 percent of registered Latino voters in Arizona are Democrats and 16 percent are Republicans, a ratio of almost 3 to 1. That margin, coupled with the projected increase in Latino turnout, could be good news for Democrats, but Camacho is cautious.

"You have to be pragmatic about it," he said. "We have had situations in the past where we thought, ‘This is going to wake the sleeping giant,' as the Latino community has been called, and it hasn't."

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