Democrats take convention to Hispanic territory
The Democratic Party hopes to win over voters that helped tip the 2004 election in the Republicans’ favor
Washington -- The mile-high city of Denver in the Rocky Mountain state of Colorado and its large Hispanic population are bracing for this week’s historic presidential nomination of Barack Obama by the Democrats.
The drama is expected to flood convention site Denver with 50,000 out-of-towners as the Democratic Party tries to unify itself after bitter primary elections and to reinforce a strong public image for Senator Obama, 47.
Obama is the first black American to be nominated by a major political party and a relative newcomer to the national political scene.
The following week, Republicans will meet in St Paul, Minnesota, to nominate Senator John McCain, 71.
Serving other purposes
There's little mystery about the convention outcomes after six months of state-by-state voting by party loyalists in the hottest US primary contest in decades. Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton hung on to the very last against Obama, falling short by about 200 votes of the 2,118 delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination.
But if the outcome is already decided, the convention that starts Monday will serve other purposes, beginning with its location in a region that has voted for Republican presidents for much of the past 40 years.
Democrats this year are specifically targeting the Hispanic vote in Colorado and nearby New Mexico and Nevada, where Latinos were credited with helping Republican President George W. Bush -- a former border state governor with Hispanic family ties -- return to the White House in 2004.
In addition, the Mountain West region has seen 15 percent population growth since 2000 and "the emergence of unaffiliated voters as the largest voting bloc," holding out hope for the center-left party, Colorado's Democratic Senator Ken Salazar wrote in the Los Angeles Times this week.
An ethnic mix
Denver is known as the "mile-high" city because of its altitude of 5,280 feet (1,609 meters). Anchoring the western edge of the Great Plains with the Rocky Mountains, the city of more than half a million is the region's cultural capital.
Denver's is 50 percent white, 11 percent black and a variety of other ethnicities. Most striking is the strong presence of Hispanics, who make up 35 percent of the city's population, according to the US Census.
Hispanics make up 15 percent of the US population but only 9 percent of eligible voters -- a number kept low by the illegal status of many and the large number of children under voting age, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
But their presence exceeds that in Colorado: They make up 12 percent of eligible voters in the state; in the region, they make up 37 percent in New Mexico and 12 percent in Nevada.
Those numbers and those three states are especially interesting for Democrats and their $20-million-campaign to target Hispanic voters because of the narrow outcomes in 2004.
That year, they were three of the six states that Bush carried by the narrow margin of 5 percent or less, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, and Democrats are determined to wrestle them into their territory this November.
Polling results have given Democrats reason to hope. Hispanic voters prefer Obama over presumptive Republican nominee McCain by a nearly 3-to-1 margin, according to the Pew Center -- a sharp reversal from the primary vote, when Hispanics threw their weight to Clinton.
On the last day of the convention, Aug. 28, Obama plans to bask in his growing star power with an open-air acceptance speech before 75,000 people at Invesco Field at Mile High Stadium.
The date marks the 45th anniversary of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, and also draws comparisons to the late John F. Kennedy, the last presidential nominee to take his acceptance speech out of the limited confines of the convention hall to a larger venue in 1960.
The decision has created nightmares for security officials in Denver and intensified the scramble for already scarce hotel rooms as thousands learned at the last minute they had won a lottery for tickets.
Two-bedroom condominiums were renting for 5,000 dollars during convention week and hotel rooms, if available, started at $400 a night.
-- Pat Reber/Expatica