More Latino voters than ever are registering in Arizona, but getting them to cast ballots for the November general election remains an issue, political experts say.
That leaves everyone speculating at what the Latino electorate's influence will be in the state, especially in the presidential and U.S. Senate races.
Forty-one percent more Latinos will be registered to vote in Arizona for this year's election than in 2008, said Deyanira Nevarez Martinez, state coordinator for Mi Familia Vota, a nonpartisan group that helps people obtain their citizenships and registers voters.
The increase "translates to about 169,000 new Latino voters, which is pretty close to the margin of victory for Sen. John McCain (in the presidential election) in the state in 2008," Nevarez Martinez said in an Arizona Week interview. "So I think that in a very close race, that margin can sway an election."
Democrats and Republicans recognize the potential of the vote, but both are having issues with corraling it. For Democrats, voter turnout and getting newly registering young Latinos to join the party are the issues. For Republicans, attracting them in big numbers remains a frustration.
"I have always said in order to really transform the elections in Arizona, Latino voters have to make up about 20 percent of the electorate," said Luis Heredia, executive director of the Arizona Democratic Party. "We are hovering around anywhere from 16 to 17 to 18 in registered voters."
Newly registering Latinos, especially younger voters, are registering as independents, following the trends of the general population, something Heredia called unfortunate. Yet the majority of Latinos registered to vote in Arizona are believed to be Democrats.
For Republicans, the issue is one of attracting them in more than small numbers, said José Borrajero, communications director of the Arizona Latino Republican Association. He said getting Latinos to see that the GOP's positions are in line with their thinking has been difficult.
"We have an experience that for many years, no matter what the Republican Party were to do, it seems like the Latino community as a bloc, when there is such a thing, they tend to gravitate towards the Democrats," Borrajero said.
He pointed out that a recent Gallup Poll showed registered Latino and non-Latino voters are interested in the same issues -- "the budget, in other words the economy, the deficit, jobs."
Because of what Borrajero called President Obama's shortcomings on those issues, Latinos ought to be attracted to the GOP, he concluded.
Yet polling shows Obama leading Romney 2-1 among Latinos, although Romney has made some gains. Borrajero attributed that to government giveaways and the willingness of people -- both Latinos and others -- to take them.
Projections by several groups, including the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials and the Center for Immigration Studies, are that national Latino voter turnout for the November election will rise significantly.
Both organizations caution that it remains unknown if enough Latinos will vote to be a significant influence in many areas. In Arizona, the number of Latino voters is expected to rise 23 percent, to 359,000, or 12 percent of Arizona's overall voter turnout, NALEO projected.
Heredia said he thinks Latino turnout will be higher, perhaps 16 percent of the state's total, and that when combined with other groups, can be influential in the outcomes of the presidential and U.S. Senate races in the state.
Longer term, Latino voter influence in Arizona is expected to increase as the young population comes of age and registers, according to "Arizona's Emerging Latino Vote," a report released last month by the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University.