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Minority Voters: How Crucial Are They To Presidential Election?

It’s been two weeks of back-to-back Republican and Democratic National Conventions, and one demographic both parties hope to court during the presidential election is minority voters. But, while the Democrats have more of a diverse base, Republicans, who are mostly white, are seeing a lack of diversity in their party ranks.

A crucial part of President Barack Obama’s victory in 2008 was support he got from the 80-percent of minority voters. And, now four years later, the President needs at least that much to win in 2012.

Some say for both presidential candidates, winning the Hispanic vote is crucial, and the Democratic and Republican National Conventions reflected that. This year, rising GOP star, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American, introduced Mitt Romney as the Republican presidential nominee at the RNC. And, San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, a Mexican American, was chosen as the first Hispanic speaker to deliver a keynote address at the DNC.

So far, Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith says on a national level, his party has been trying to galvanize support among Hispanic voters, and he believes this year, their efforts could pay off:

“We’ve spent the last two years working on it, and I’m extraordinarily optimistic that we’re going to have a tremendous turnout there," said Smith. "And, I will tell you that I think Florida is so close that it will be decided by two things: Hispanic turnout and the women’s vote. If we turn out the Democratic Hispanic vote that we did not turn out in 2010, I think that we win the race.”

And, at least one Latino voter agrees with that assessment. Isabel Santos is a Florida Delegate  from Brazil, who currently lives in Boca Raton, Florida. She’s also the President of the Brazilian American Democratic Party in Palm Beach. Santos attended the Democratic National Convention because she says she wanted to make sure Brazilians were represented as part of the Latino vote.

“We are Latinos, but they never recognize Brazilians who vote," remarked Santos. "All Latinos, we are a lot of people who vote, but where are the Brazilians?  So, we decided to open the Brazilian American Democratic [Party], so now I’m representing Brazil."

She says what her group is hoping Mr. Obama will do, if he is re-elected, is focus on immigration reform.

“I’m Brazilian, and I see a lot of families suffering, a lot of families who have lived in this country for 20 years. They work hard, their kids go to school, they pay income tax, they are good people, and most of them have no driver’s license, no rights to drive," said Santos. "How can people survive like this? Because they are so used to the country, going back to Brazil is not [an option]. What are the kids going to do there? It’s a very bad situation. We just really need that immigration reform.”

Santos says she believes Mr. Obama is the man for the job. Black Actress Sheryl Lee Ralph, who also attended the DNC, says she too believes Mr. Obama should stay in office, and minority voters should see it too. Ralph says she’s disappointed that there could be black voters across the country planning to sit this election out, and she has a message for them:

“Stop that foolishness about sit this out," exclaimed Ralph. "If you’re confused about who to vote [for], vote for Barack Obama! What are you going to do? Give Mitt Romney your vote, by voting for nobody! That is madness! Vote for Barack Obama! Get up off of your rooty tooty rusty dusty, get registered, and vote!”

The American National Election Studies estimates about 85-percent of African Americans identify themselves as Democrats, while only six-percent say they are Republicans. While the Republican National Committee does not keep track of racial breakdowns, it is estimated that more than 90-percent of its membership is white.

And, former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, the first black chair for the committee, says he feels the Republican Party needs to make more strides in attracting minority voters before it’s too late.

“It’s something they have to work on because if we don’t, by the time we get to the next presidential [election], it’s all over," said Steele.

Meanwhile, Florida Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll says it’s time for minorities to have an open mindto the GOP’s message. She says the Republican Party has tried to recruit as many minorities as they can, but now she says the ball is in their court.

“For many, many years we’ve been having minority outreach and having organizations established to share to minorities exactly what the party stands for, what are the policies we put in place, how it has benefited them, but it has to receptive," Carroll said. "If we’re sharing this information, and it’s not being absorbed and processed, and giving us an opportunity to come in and be accepted, then that’s a problem.”

While minority voters could be a deciding factor in the election, political experts say both parties should also not count out the young voters.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on twitter @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.