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Latino officials see big Hispanic vote in 2012

By Gustavo Valdes, CNN
  • NEW: Texas governor gets a polite reception at Latino officials' conference
  • The group 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 Obama, executive director says

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 kicked off Thursday with the release of the groups' projections of Latino participation in the 2012 elections. The group expects 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 than 50 million Latinos in the United States.

Vargas said the influence of the Latino vote was evident in 2008, crediting this bloc 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 was Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican who has been weighing a possible run for the White House. Perry roused his party's base at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans last week, but received only polite applause from the NALEO audience Thursday.

Perry touted his state's job-creation statistics, but NALEO President Sylvia Garcia said Perry missed a great opportunity to reach Latino leaders if indeed he is considering running for president. She said his speech was simply a "courtesy" as he welcomed the convention to his state, and it was received as such.

Vargas had predicted that Perry's speech here would get the attention of Latino leaders, pointing to Perry's predecessor, George W. Bush. Bush had a good relationship with the state's Spanish-heritage population 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 Bush had, which could make it more difficult for him to gain the trust of the group.

Redistricting was also a topic of discussion at the convention, as a coalition of groups is trying to increase the Latino representation in all forms of government by working to map out new districts at the local, state and national level. Texas gained four congressional seats in the 2010 cenus, but critics say new maps don't reflect the growth of the Latino population responsible for those districts.

"It is important to make sure that the opinion of everybody counts in this country," said Juan Cartagena, president of the group Latino Justice, which is leading the redistricting fight for Latinos in several states.

The conference runs through Saturday.