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Latino Voters Shake Up Florida Elections

Analysts say President Barack Obama owes a big thank you to Latino voters, who many say made up a big chuck of his Florida win. That comes as a surprise to pollsters who predicted a Romney win. But for grass roots organizers in Florida, it wasn’t a surprise at all.

“I believe that we are the determining factor in the presidential election.” Says Julsea Arsen with the voter advocacy group Mi Familia Vota. She says the Latino population has grown dramatically throughout Central Florida. And she believes the group’s outreach in that area paid off big.

Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith says it was a major party focus to get out the Latino vote beginning as early as 2010. And Democrats focused mostly on Latinos in Central Florida.

“It was clear when you analyzed the numbers that we left huge amounts of votes out there that should have been democratic votes. So it was clear that basically working the I-4 corridor primarily focusing on the Hispanic outreach in Orange, Osceola, Seminole, and Polk which we knew could be huge game changers.” Says Smith.

Only two central Florida counties, Osceola and Orange, went for President Barack Obama. But throughout the state, Obama carried 75 percent of the Latino vote according to the research group, Latino Decisions. That’s the highest Latino support for any presidential candidate ever.

“Our vote can no longer be taken for granted. And the issues that we care about can no longer be taken for granted. And, you know, we’re really hoping that this is going to help legislators at every level of Government see that we want to see particular changes happen.” Says Florida Immigrant Coalition’s Kathy Bird. She says the big turnout shows the direction of the changing electorate as issues with citizenship and deportation take to a bigger stage.

And Arsen says Latino voters are taking stances on more than immigration issues.

“We all want better jobs. We all want equal education for our children. Healthcare That is such an important topic. That really drove out the masses to make that difference.” Says Arsen.

Arsen says the goal now is to increase the Latino voter turnout by explaining the importance of voting in the 2014 elections.

“Now we see that the community is active, right? They say ‘the sleeping giant,’ well we’re wide awake. So now it’s just getting the information out there. Educating the community. Voting doesn’t just come every four years. You have elections every two years. And those are just as important.”   

Florida Democratic Chairman Rod Smith agrees.

“The changing demographic of Florida was never more evident. And we were, at least for this cycle, we adjusted to it well and we took advantage of it. And now what we’ve gotta do is maintain the momentum and consistency in that effort.” Says Smith.

He says the work done in this election laid the ground work for future success. And though voter turnout may not have the boost of a presidential election in two years, he says it’s not hard to imagine another big victory if Democrats keep up the work.

For more news updates follow Thomas Andrew Gustafson on Twitter @tandrewgus