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The presidential battle for the Latino vote will be fierce

Earl Ofari Hutchinson | 11/8/2011, 5:21 p.m.

In the “National Survey of Latinos: The Latino Electorate,” conducted in 2002 by the Pew Hispanic Center, one-fifth of Latinos said they were Republicans. That number has remained steady in the decade since.

GOP presidential hopeful Rick Perry has gotten significant support in Texas from Latino voters. He got it in part because of conservative fiscal and pro-evangelical, and pro-family pitch, and in part because he’s been considered legislative-friendly to Latinos on education, immigration issues and his willingness to appoint Latinos to key state positions.

But religious affiliation and sensitivities almost certainly will pale in relation to the two things that the White House race will hinge on with Latino voters. The first is the economy. Latinos and blacks have been the hardest hit by high joblessness and home foreclosures. A worsening of economic conditions and the sense that things won’t get any better will hurt Obama.

But what can also inflict a wound is the enthusiasm factor. Latinos will almost certainly give Obama the majority of their vote, but it’s not percentages that count, it’s the number of voters that turn out.

If there’s any significant fall off in the number of Latino voters that march to the polls, that will pose a deep peril for Obama. GOP leaders can be counted on to do everything they can to keep those numbers down.

Republicans know that they don’t need a majority to punch the Republican ticket; they only need a strategic minority of Hispanic voters in the must-win states to punch the GOP ticket. Obama knows that too, and he’ll wage a fierce battle to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.