Latinos join forces to round up new voters

FRESNO -- Major national Latino advocacy groups said Wednesday they will merge their budgets and strategies to turn out new voters in battleground states where they think the Latino voting bloc could sway the presidential election.

More than 1 million first-time voters are forecast to join the rolls by November 2008, but no one knows how many will show up at the polls on Election Day.

So rather than sink their money into campaign mailers, the groups plan to bankroll a $3.2 million effort to pump out slick, Spanish-language ads and to train volunteers to go door to door to convince newcomers that their votes count.

New research shows those bilingual, personalized tactics are helping to build Latinos' voting clout in emerging cities such as Fresno, a demographically diverse region of California in which more than one-quarter of all registrants are Latino.

"Candidates who don't take these voters into account in their local campaigns will find they have a whole new electorate to answer to next year," said Efrain Escobedo, director of voter engagement for the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, which is leading the push. "It's time to bring more voices into the process."

The effort announced in Washington on Wednesday unites Escobedo's Los Angeles-based group, Spanish-language media giant Univision and the National Council of La Raza, a leading national advocacy group linked to 300 community-based organizations.