Michael Bennet's win in 2010 may offer a false hope for Obama in Colorado. Bennet won by about 30,000 votes, making him the weakest winner in a Colorado US Senate race in the past decade.
Obama's forces tout Bennet's focus on women's issues as a model for winning in 2012, and, indeed, a narrow slice of women won it for Bennet. Obama TV ads parrot this narrow focus.
Yet Bennet's weakness came from a substantial drop in Hispanic levels of voting – a mandatory part of Obama's coalition. Here's what happened in Colorado's last two elections. 195,000 Colorado Hispanics voted in '08, but only 144,000 did in 2010 (US Census). Since 2010, 10,000 Hispanic voters dropped from the voter lists.
It's hard to maintain Hispanic excitement about voting. Federico Peña registered more than 5,000 new voters in minority neighborhoods of Denver his first race. They provided his winning margin. Peña had been a MALDEF lawyer, but, as mayor, he played down that liberal, activist Chicano de Aztlán background. His reelection battle – with a Republican opponent in heavily Democratic Denver – produced a very narrow 3,000 vote margin. Peña had lost some magic.
On a teeter totter, Obama's economic failures have really harmed Hispanic families in Colorado, but Obama's policy change on deportation helped him. For those with ties to Mexico, immigration helps. Among Hispanics whose parents were born in the US, however, just 7% rate immigration as their most important issue – while economy/jobs earn 36% as top issues. That issue focus differential may explain why Romney already has McCain's Hispanic share.
Just 52% of Hispanics are enthusiastic about voting now; 64% were in 2008's summer. Despite more Hispanic citizens in Colorado, a drop in voting to match the lower enthusiasm could mean fewer Hispanic voters in 2012 than four years ago.
Pundit Charlie Cook sees a Hispanic enthusiasm deficit in August's polling. Matt Barreto of Latino Decisions polling firm has a different view. He estimates one of eight registered Colorado voters will be Hispanic. If Barreto is correct about turnout, that would give Obama a real boost.
Colorado would swing about 1.25% to Romney if, instead, 2012 replicates US Census Colorado's 2008 ethnic turnout numbers. In oh-so-close Colorado, that is significant.
I am not rooting for low Hispanic turnout. The stakes in 2012 are so high that election results should include the views of every citizen eligible to vote.
I believe that, as Hispanics climb the economic ladder, they will naturally lean more Republican, given their conservative heritage and faith. I cheer the fact that Hispanic school drop-outs have been halved in the last two decades, since education is the key to full participation in America. That's what I hope for them. But – this year – we're not going to see a magical increase in their electoral participation. The promise of Obama has not been fulfilled. (Republicans must, soon, offer Hispanics reasons why they should become Republican voters.)