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If you've ever wondered why the political parties and the media make such a big deal out of the Latino vote, even though Latinos nationwide make up only 7.3 percent of all voters, some new numbers released yesterday by the William C. Velasquez Institute, tell the story. In short, it is this: the Latino vote is where the growth is.

Data from the Census Bureau show that the total number of registered voters in the United States declined by 1.4 million between 2000 and 2002 (historically there is always a dropoff between presidential and nonpresidential election years). During that period when the total number of registered voters was declining, however, the number of Latino voters surged by 650,000, to an all-time high of 8.2 million. Based on this trend, institute president Antonio Gonzalez projects that 9.4 million Latinos will be registered to vote for president in November and that 7.4 million will vote.

Gonzalez said the data prove that "the Latino community is now the most positive force in the American electorate."

It is this surge in Latino registration that gives Democrats hope that the Southwest states will become a strength for the party in 2004 and in future presidential election years. In 2000, President Bush carried Nevada by about 12,000 votes and Arizona by about 80,000. Al Gore carried New Mexico by fewer than 400 votes. In each of those states, if John Kerry were to win the Latino vote by the same margin that Gore did four years ago, the increase in Latino voters would be enough to put all three in the Democratic column.

That explains why Kerry made a trip to the Southwest this week -- and why you're also likely to see Latinos prominently featured at the Republican National Convention in a couple weeks.

95 percent accurate
Over the last 25 presidential elections, Ventura County voters have backed the winner 24 times, or over 95 percent of the time. It is one of only a handful of counties in the nation that has been such a predictable bellwether.
about Timm Herdt
Timm Herdt
The Ventura County Star's Sacramento Bureau Chief Timm Herdt on state issues and politics from Sacramento to Ventura County. He can be contacted at therdt@vcstar.com