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Win Or Lose, DREAM Act Solidifies Latino Democratic Support -- As Long As Latinos Aren't Prevented From Voting

"The parties haven't wanted to concern themselves with this fact: tens of thousands of people are getting to the polls, casting a ballot and those ballots are not counting."

Last week could help decide the fate of the mid-term elections.

Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid - facing a close re-election fight in Nevada - brought  to the Senate floor the long-delayed DREAM Act that offers a path to citizenship for young, illegal, immigrant students if they graduate college or complete military service. The bill's chances were dealt a major setback  Tuesday when Democrats couldn't beat a Senate Republican-led filibuster to block the defense authorization bill that contained that immigration bill along with a repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" military policy for gays. The DREAM Act is now almost certainly doomed for this year. It has faced unyielding opposition from Republicans, who have been playing on anti-immigrant fears to mobilize their base and who also say it shouldn't have been attached as a rider to a defense spending bill.

But, even so, Democrats are hoping that even the fight for the DREAM Act's passage - and the demonizing of the GOP opposition among Latinos - will help energize a previously disaffected Hispanic community that voted in record numbers for President Obama in 2008. Obama endorsed the measure and immigration reform in an impassioned speech to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus last week.

Democrats are now counting on Hispanics for a strong turnout in November to counter fading public support for Obama, an energized Tea Party-driven GOP and an "enthusiasm gap" among liberals and union members. Senator Reid is among those most in need of Latino voters, as they make up a quarter of the state's population and nearly 12 percent of the voters.

The push for immigration reform in the face of GOP nativism is a potentially shrewd strategy that's already showing higher approval ratings among Latinos for Obama. "It's a win-win for Democrats," says Danny Ortega, the chairman of the board of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR). "If it gets through, it will be a feather in the cap for Obama and Congress, and if it fails, Latinos will still turn out because they're angry - if the message gets out that it's Republicans who are blocking this avenue to citizenship."

Yet, it's still a long shot in a tough political and economic climate, worsened by troubling barriers to voting participation by minorities, especially Hispanics, in such swing states as Arizona, Nevada and Colorado, according to a damning new report released by the national election watchdogs Demos and Common Cause. "One of the biggest concerns in this election broadly is that the ugly immigration debate will be leveraged into the elections and the voting process," Tova Wang, senior Democracy Fellow at Demos and author of the report, said last week when the report was released. "We are worried about the use of vote suppression tactics and voter intimidation and bogus charges of noncitizen voting being used as a way to impose obstacles to voting that could affect a wide range of voters, but primarily people of color. Just the climate that has been created could have an impact on its own."

"When the stakes are this high, the rules of the game - and whether or not they are enforced-make all the difference" added Susannah Goodman, director of election reform for Common Cause and co-author of the report.

As the policy groups noted: "The report reviews problematic areas that include: voter registration; identification issues - which can present burdens to those who don't hold traditional identification such as a driver's license; provisional ballots; voter suppression and deception tactics; caging and challenge laws; voting for overseas and military voters; and challenges for new citizens and ethnic minorities."

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