Latino vote: Will the sleeping giant finally choose the next president?

Updated 2:27 PM EST, Fri February 19, 2016
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Story highlights

Latino candidates in Republican Party are already making history

Now Latino voters want to make history too, in selecting next president

Battle may lie in nine key states where Latinos could swing the election, CUNY study says

Las Vegas CNN —  

Rudy Zamora senses history in the making for that long-sleeping giant in the presidential election: the Latino vote.

He will become a first-time voter in the November general election, taking one step toward erasing Latino voters’ spotty record of registering and actually going to vote.

“We need to show the country that we’re ready to take on the battle,” said Zamora, 29, who will become a U.S. citizen later this year, allowing him to cast his first ballot.

“I clearly believe Latinos have the power to elect the next president of the United States,” he added.

Rudy Zamora will be voting for the first time in November.
Jaqueline Hurtado/CNNE
Rudy Zamora will be voting for the first time in November.

Already, this year’s election is making Latino history – if only among the candidates.

Specifically, Sen. Ted Cruz, a Cuban-American, became the first Hispanic candidate to ever win a presidential caucus or primary when he won the Republican caucus in Iowa.

Sen. Marco Rubio, also a Cuban-American and Republican, came in third. With Cruz’s 28% of the vote and Rubio’s 23%, each surpassed results achieved by any other Latino candidate in any previous presidential contest, analyst Roberto Suro wrote in The New York Times.

But what about the other side of the voting booth?

Will Latinos – now the nation’s largest minority – choose the next president and make history, too?

Nine states may have the answer

The answer may boil down to Nevada and eight other states, all places where Latinos could determine who becomes the next president – if they vote in sufficient numbers, according to a new study by City University of New York in partnership with CNN en Español.

The signs are optimistic.

Latinos are already voting in higher numbers: In 1992, they cast only 3.9% of all votes at the national level, but their share is projected to approach 10% in November, the study said.

The study identifies nine small and big states where Latinos could flex their growing muscle and actually swing the vote for the White House: Nevada, North Carolina, Virginia, Colorado, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, as well as the delegate-rich states of Florida and Ohio.

“States with relatively small percentages of the total national Latino electorate will probably determine who will be the next president of the United States,” the study said.

“However, in very close elections in each state, Latinos may determine the victor despite the fact that they will be a small portion of those who vote,” said the report by CUNY’s Center for Latin American, Caribbean & Latino Studies.

Nevada is one of those bellwether states: A good Latino turnout is projected here in November, at 53% of those eligible in the demographic. If that projection is right, they will account for 20% of all voters casting ballots, the study said.

Just how influential Latinos are in Nevada was highlighted in the 2012 presidential race: President Barack Obama won Nevada by 6.7 percentage points, and exit polls showed he won 71% of the Latino vote here, the study said.

In Nevada, the Democrat caucus will be held Saturday, and the Republicans will hold theirs on Tuesday.