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How Will Latinos Vote in Swing States?
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How Will Latinos Vote in Swing States?

Latinos have increased in numbers but does that growth translate to political power? In a two-part series for the Salt Lake Tribune, reporter David Montero explored the Latino vote in two Western battleground states in this year’s presidential election.

In the first part, the focus is on Latinos in Colorado declining to participate in politics because of apathy, a belief that a vote doesn’t matter, lack of time or simple dissatisfaction with the two candidates. Part two examines the home foreclosure crisis and its potential impact on the Latino vote in Washoe County — a swing county in the swing state of Nevada. Both neighboring states of Utah are considered critical to victory by the Obama and Romney campaigns, and both acknowledge the importance of the Latino vote.

Photo by Scott Sommerdorf /The Salt Lake Tribune

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David’s Story Behind the Story

In 2008, Nevada and Colorado were focal points for the Democrats’ Western states strategy in helping President Barack Obama capture the White House and special attention was paid to Nevada and Colorado in that endeavor. But between 2008 and 2012, the nation went through a massive recession fueled by foreclosures and short sales and states like Nevada and Colorado were hit especially hard. But as hard as they were hit, the impacts of foreclosures and short sales in those states hit the Latino population even harder.

That led me to wonder how attitudes within the Latino community – especially those hit by the housing crisis – might look at the 2012 election and how the campaigns might try to appeal to those voters in swing counties within those states. It would be a question of whether Latinos in these areas would support Obama in the numbers that they did in 2008 or did enough lose their homes and livelihoods in the four years that they’d either vote Republican or not vote at all.

I decided to take two approaches in my IJJ fellowship proposal and subsequent stories in The Salt Lake Tribune. In Nevada, I wanted to see the impact of a short sale or foreclosure on a micro-targeted level and explore the ripple effects of the loss of one home and how that loss impacted people through a six degrees of separation approach. I was interested in exploring attitudes about the election as I followed the string on the impact of two brothers in the midst of being forced from their home in Reno, which is a swing county in the state of Nevada.

Because the reporting required a strong jumping off point – the brothers and the house – there was little in the way of obstacles as I simply followed the trail of everyone who had links to the house until I reached the outer edges of the six degrees of separation idea, where I was able to end the story with another person in the midst of losing their home.

For Colorado, the initial plan was to replicate what the device in Reno and target Latinos in key swing counties. But that was the first real obstacle I hit. After discussion with editors, there was concern that a two-day package with a similar device might appear repetitive. I agreed and quickly found that another key issue within the Latino communities in Colorado was voter apathy. I spoke with my IJJ mentor and discussed the switch in focus on the Colorado portion of the project, and she agreed with our conclusions and I went forward, trying to focus on Latino-heavy communities and noting areas of outreach to those voters by the campaigns.

The result was a two-day package that explored two critical swing states in the West and how the Latino vote may play out based on the impacts of the housing crisis as well as voter apathy. The Salt Lake Tribune ran Spanish-language versions online and we included a photo slide show as part of the package. It was well-received, prompting several radio interviews exploring the issues more in depth. We also did a follow up item on one of the key subjects in the Nevada piece as there was community interest in her journey through losing a home while becoming a U.S. Citizen who would be eligible to vote for the first time in 2012.

Because the 2012 election on the presidential level was not in question in Utah, where Mitt Romney easily defeated Obama, focus on neighboring states that were contested proved to be of great interest to the public. It was the kind of journalism that showed the paper was willing to broaden its reach with regional reporting on the high-profile race.

It would’ve been a more difficult prospect for The Salt Lake Tribune to do the pieces without the IJJ fellowship. The fellowship was also instrumental in giving me a chance to broaden my sourcing for the stories as well as bounce ideas for framing the story off of professionals in the field, fellows at IJJ and speakers throughout the program. The IJJ fellowship gave me valuable contacts, resources and materials to complete not only my project but also for other stories on the immigration beat.

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