Hispanic Outreach: Key Point for Obama's Speech?

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President Barack Obama may not specifically mention them by name in his State of the Union speech Wednesday evening, but Latinos will no doubt be listening and evaluating.

Latinos represent the nation's largest minority group and their political clout is growing.

In the 2008 presidential election, almost 1 in 10 voters were Hispanic. Today, one in five school children are Latino. By the year 2050, Hispanics will make up 30 percent of the population.

"For both parties they're vital," said Dr. Gerson Moreno-Riano, political scientist at Regent University. "The question is will be which one will be able to integrate them well. I think Democrats have done a better job of that in the previous elections than Republicans."

Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, represents some 15 million Hispanic evangelicals. He said Obama must make immigration reform a top priority this year.

"If immigration reform does not pass in 2010, then I think the Hispanic-American electorate will say, 'We punished Republicans in 2006 and 2008 and we are the quintessential fluid independent voting bloc in America and we may very well punish the Democrats in 2010 and 2012,'" Rodriguez said.

But Moreno-Riano said if Obama talks health care and the economy in his speech, he will reach out to Hispanics, whether he calls them by name or not.

"They're much more concerned with putting food on the table, paying bills, getting ahead, being able to compete in the job market," Moreno-Riano explained. "These issues are serious. Immigration is a concern but it's a far-away concern because it's not affecting them now."

Immigration may not make it to the table this year, but Hispanic concerns are here to stay. Their core interests speak to the values of both parties -- and their numbers cannot be dismissed.

"Hispanics have a sense of being able to integrate Democrats and Republican values together," Moreno-Riano added. "They want strong family, religion, religious involvement but also jobs, a good economy."

In short, Hispanics loyalty to any one political party is up for grabs. That dynamic plus their impressive numbers means Hispanic outreach will be key for both the Democratic and the Republican parties in 2010 as well as for Obama on Wednesday evening. 

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Heather Sells

Heather Sells

CBN News Reporter

Heather Sells enjoys reporting on a variety of issues for CBN News. Some of her recent stories have focused on religious liberties, technology, AIDS, overseas missions, domestic trafficking, and politics.  Follow Heather on Twitter @SellsHeather and "like" her at Facebook.com/HeatherSellsCBNNews.