6 Key Latino Players in the Presidential Race

With Mitt Romney all but sewing up the Republican presidential nomination with primary wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, it’s time to start giving a closer look at the Latinos from both sides of the aisle who are likely to play a big role in the upcoming elections. Whether blue or red, they represent the growing clout of the 50.5 million U.S. Latinos. 

Here ar six Latinos to keep an eye on...

1. Politicos: Marco Rubio

Marco Rubio

Who he is: Florida Senator elected in Nov. 2010

Why he matters: As the articulate, photogenic young bright hope for Republicans, the Senator has been pegged as a top contender for the vice presidential nomination, though Rubio himself has said he would not consider the job. Whether he does or not, he will be instrumental in the party’s effort to win Florida, a key state where many of his fellow Cuban Americans, who lean Republican, live, and where Obama and Romney are head to head in polls. Whether he can help the party win over other Latinos nationwide remains a much shakier proposition, as most are Democrats turned off by the party’s scorched earth rhetoric on undocumented immigrants.

2. Politicos: Katherine Archuleta

Katherine Archuleta

Who she is: National Political Director, Barack Obama re-election campaign

Why she matters: Last June she became the first Latina to hold the above position on a major presidential campaign. A native of Colorado, a battleground state, Obama is likely counting on her serious Latino bonafides—she founded the Latina Initiative, a Colorado organization aimed at getting more Hispanic voters involved in politics, she was chief of staff to Secretary Hilda Solis in the U.S. Department of Labor—to help deliver his message to Hispanics and return with their votes.

3. Politicos: Bettina Inclan

Bettina Inclan

Who she is: Republican National Committee Hispanic Outreach Director

Why she matters: The GOP may be a bit late to the party, hiring Inclan just this week, but it’s a smart move for a party hurting to gain Latino voters who feel spurned by it. She is of Mexican-Cuban descent and a communications and political strategist who has worked on prominent races nationwide, including Rick Scott’s successful bid for the Florida governorship, in which he won the majority of the Latino vote. She also has served as National Executive Director of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly. She’s optimistic that Latinos will be receptive to Republican economic solutions enough to overlook the differences that the party has with most Latino voters on issues like immigration but the truth is, she’s got her work cut out for her.

4. Politicos: Maria Teresa Kumar

Maria Teresa Kumar

Who she is: Executive Director/Co-Founder, Voto Latino

Why she matters: Voto Latino is the most prominent non-partisan non-profit dedicated to getting out the Latino vote. Next month, the organization will host its first Youth Power Summit whose aim is to turn 500 invited young Latinos activists from around the country into the org’s voter registration reps by teaching them all about the registration process, voting rights and laws and giving them the tools and resources to go back to their community to register others. Kumar’s very ambitious goal: to register 500,000 Latinos in time for the presidential elections. If she succeeds and they vote, it could help decide the election.

5. Politicos: Susana Martinez

Susana Martinez

Who she is: Governor of New Mexico

Why she matters: She is the only Hispanic Republican governor, and she’s the guv of a border state who is tough on immigration. There’s no way the GOP won’t try to capitalize on that. Republicans will look to her to offer her as an alternative view on illegal immigration. So bank on her delivering a speech at the Republican National Convention. Whether she has enough pull with Latinos is a different matter: a recent LatinoDecisions poll discovered that she was largely unknown to Latino voters. Ouch.

6. Politicos: Luis Gutierrez

Luis Gutierrez

Who he is: Democratic Congressman for Chicago area

Why he matters: Gutierrez traveled the nation last year speaking out against the historic levels of deportations under the Obama administration. He got arrested outside the White House during a pro-immigrant rally. And he said publicly that the Latino community would not support Obama if his immigration policies didn’t change. In other words, he was at the forefront of major pressure that immigrants and advocates put on Obama, which resulted in his effectively ordering ICE to target serious felons only for deportation. It will be interesting to see whether Gutierrez will keep applying pressure or backs Obama during what is likely to shape up as a brutal presidential race in which Obama will need every Latino vote he can muster, especially in Florida and Western states.

7. Politicos: Related Links