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Latino officials see big Hispanic vote in 2012

By Gustavo Valdes, CNN
  • Conference predicts 12.2 million Hispanic Americans will vote in next year's elections
  • That would be a 25% increase over 2008
  • Many Hispanics are disappointed in President Obama, executive director says
  • Texas Gov. Rick Perry to speak to group

San Antonio, Texas (CNN) -- The largest gathering of Latino elected officials in the United States projects a record number of Hispanic voters in next year's election.

The National Association of Elected and Appointed Officials -- NALEO -- kicked off Thursday with the release of the groups' projections of Latino participation in the 2012 elections.

They expect 12.2 million Hispanic Americans will go to the polls, which would be an increase of 25% from 2008.

But Arturo Vargas, NALEO's executive director says his group expects another 12 million Latinos to stay home.

"We need to develop a culture of participation in which we vote every year," Vargas said.

The projections are based in the results of the 2010 census, which showed there are more of 50 million Latinos in the United States.

Vargas said the influence of the Latino vote was evident in 2008, crediting this block with helping Democrats retain control of the U.S. Senate, including saving the seat of the Majority Leader Harry Reed of Nevada.

He also noted that the greatest gains by Latino elected officials was within the GOP, sending Florida's Marco Rubio to the Senate, electing Republican governors in Nevada and New Mexico and adding four more U.S. representatives, two of whom came from states not traditionally considered Hispanic strongholds such as Washington and Idaho.

Presidential politics are in the minds of the attendees many of whom are frustrated with President Obama whom many said has disappointed the Hispanic community.

"It goes beyond disappointment," said Vargas, who said candidate Obama three promised three years ago we would return to the convention as president bringing a signed immigration reform bill, which has not happened.

The keynote speaker for Thursday's luncheon is Texas Governor Rick Perry who has been touting a possible run for the White House, rousing his party base at the Southern Republicans Convention in New Orleans last week.

Vargas said his speech here will get the attention of Latino leaders pointing to Perry's predecessor, President George W. Bush who had a good relationship with the state's Hispanics and got more than 40 percent of the Latino vote when he ran for president. But Vargas also said Perry has not been able to develop the same type of relationship Governor Bush had, which could make it more difficult for him to gain the trust of the group.

Redistricting is also being discussed at the convention. A coalition of groups is engaged in the mapping of new districts at the local, state and national level, trying to increase the Latino representation in all forms of government.

The conference runs through Saturday.