Latino voters share thoughts on election

Valeria Cristiani
Valeria Cristiani, 38, received her naturalization certificate at a recent ceremony in St. Paul. The Rochester resident and Argentina native is excited she'll be able to vote in the November presidential election. She plans to vote for Barack Obama.
MPR Photo/Elizabeth Baier

Some people become citizens for legal reasons. Some, to improve their economic condition. And others, because they want to vote.

Valeria Cristiani is one of those people.

At a recent naturalization ceremony in St. Paul, the 38-year-old beamed with excitement at the thought of the upcoming presidential election.

"I feel special," Cristiani said. "Very happy, but special I guess."

Juan Carlos Ruisenor
Juan Carlos Ruisenor, 39, of Minneapolis, has lived in the Twin Cities for nearly 25 years and became a U.S. citizen in 2000. The Mexican native supports John McCain and will be voting for the second time in a U.S. election.
MPR Photo/Elizabeth Baier

Cristiani is from Argentina. She's lived in the United States for 13 years and works as a pediatrician in Rochester. She said one of the main reasons she became a citizen was to vote.

"I think if you really believe in democracy, you have to participate, and voting is pretty much the way my voice would be represented," Cristiani said. "If I'm living here, I want to vote."

This year's election has taken on a very personal meaning for Cristiani and other new citizens who are Latinos.

This demographic group knows that neither John McCain nor Barack Obama is likely to make it to the White House without the their vote.

And now that both the Democratic and Republican national conventions are over, the aggressive battle for the Latino vote is expected to become even more intense, especially for Republicans.

"A lot of people that I know, when I tell them... I'm a Republican, they assume, 'Why? Aren't all the Hispanics Democrats?' I say, 'Well, no they aren't.'"

A recent survey from the Pew Hispanic Center shows that Latino registered voters support Barack Obama over John McCain by 66 percent to 23 percent.

This nearly three-to-one margin is the largest partisan gap Pew researchers have measured in ten years.

Susan Minuskin, deputy director of the Pew Hispanic Center, said the shift of registered Latino voters to the Democratic party is driven in part by an overall dissatisfaction with the state of the country.

"We have reason to believe that Latinos are unhappy, that they do not view the president favorably, and they believe the situation for Latinos in the country is worse than last year," she said.

While the issue of immigration is very heartfelt for many Latinos, it's not one of the most important, according to Minushkin. Instead, Latinos list education, and pocketbook issues - such as the cost of living and jobs - among their top concerns.

Recently-naturalized Cristiani has already decided to vote for Obama. She said she's thrilled that both presidential candidates continue to reach out to Latino voters.

"I think that the Democrats in general are more empathic and they work more toward social justice, and that's one of the main things I'm concerned about," Cristiani said.

Historically, Republicans have courted Latino voters by focusing on social issues such as abortion and family values.

Those are some of the reasons why Minneapolis resident Juan Carlos Ruisenor plans to vote for McCain in November.

The Mexican native has lived in the Twin Cities for nearly 25 years but waited until 2000 to become a citizen.

This will be the second time he votes in a U.S. election.

"I'm not a Republican because of Bush, I'm not a Republican because of the war," Ruisenor said. "I'm a Republican because I believe what the base believes on. I believe in small government, that's what I believe. I believe in religion. I believe marrying one man and one woman. That is what I believe and everything else branches out from everything else."

Ruisenor said he, too, is invigorated by the election and the fact that the RNC was recently held in St. Paul.

Ruisenor said he wasn't always a Republican. But through time, his political affiliation started to change.

He said it's hard to be a Latino Republican in Minnesota, a state that hasn't voted for a GOP presidential candidate in more than 30 years.

"A lot of people that I know, when I tell them... I'm a Republican, they assume 'Why? Aren't all the Hispanics Democrats'?" he said. "I say, 'Well, no they aren't.'"

Cristiani and Ruisenor may not share the same political views.

But they're both eagerly watching to see how the Hispanic electorate will influence the final results in the race to the White House.

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