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Which Races Could Latinos Decide on Tuesday?

No one is quite sure how big an impact Latino voters will have on the upcoming elections. Polling early in the month pointed to low turnout among Latinos, who reported lower enthusiasm than voters overall for the Nov. 2 elections. There were reports that Latino voters would stay home if Congress failed to deliver comprehensive immigration reform, compounded by dubious advertising from a pro-GOP group arguing they should skip voting entirely. Meanwhile, Latino and immigrant rights groups have attempted to mobilize voters, particularly against GOP candidates deemed anti-immigrant. Recent polling indicates it might be working: Enthusiasm about voting in the midterms has been steadily growing among Latinos.

Latino voters could make a big difference in certain races, given their status as the largest and fastest-growing minority group in the country. The San Francisco Chronicle has a good list of the races in which Latinos could have the biggest impact next week, all in states where Latinos make up a large proportion of the population.

Here are the Chronicle rankings, along with my summaries of the candidates’ stances on immigration:

1. Sharron Angle (R) vs. Sen. Harry Reid (D) for Nevada senator

Angle has taken a harsh stance on illegal immigration in her ads against Senate Majority Leader Reid, with two fairly extreme ads depicting the evils of undocumented immigrants. (She didn’t earn any more love from the Latino community with her talk of Latino teens looking “more Asian.”) Reid’s campaign hopes her statements, along with Republican inaction on immigration reform, will motivate Latino voters and his Democratic base to vote for him in the primary. His argument is that Latinos who support reform don’t have a better option: “I don’t know how anyone of Hispanic heritage could be a Republican,” Reid said in August.

2. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) vs. Carly Fiorina (R) for California senator

Fiorina supports a few immigration reform measures, such as the DREAM Act and reform of the guest worker system. A conservative Latino group supports her candidacy and a National Organization for Marriage-backed group funded Spanish-language ads praising her values. But Boxer has consistently supported immigration reform — including a comprehensive overhaul of the system that would allow some illegal immigrants in the country to gain legal status — and has the edge among Latino voters.

3. John Hickenlooper (D) vs. Dan Maes (R) vs. Tom Tancredo (I) for Colorado governor

The three candidates for governor have wildly different views and rhetoric on immigration, mostly because of the near single-issue campaign Tancredo has run as a third party candidate. Tancredo, a longtime anti-illegal immigration hardliner, has accused Hickenlooper of running Denver as a “sanctuary city” for illegal immigrants and aired an ad blaming his Democratic opponent for the death of a toddler struck by an undocumented driver. For his part, Hickenlooper has taken a more positive angle — he even ran an ad in which he showers to wash away negative campaigning — while shooting down “sanctuary city” charges. Maes took increasingly conservative positions on immigration during the Republican primary, and now opposes pathways to legalization. Hickenlooper was excepted to win, but Tancredo seems to be catching up in the polls and could overtake him next week.

4. Alexi Giannoulias (D) vs. Mark Kirk (R) for Illinois senator

Giannoulias supports both comprehensive immigration reform, which would allow some illegal immigrants already in the country to become legal residents, and the DREAM Act for undocumented students and military service members. Kirk has said he would vote no on the DREAM Act and other reform legislation unless border security were addressed first. “This is not the time to do this,” he said of the DREAM Act during an Oct. 19 debate. “We have a decisive, bipartisan majority right now for border control. For making sure the United States can defend itself and make sure that illegal entry into the United States is not possible.” (Notably, this was after the Senate passed a $600 million bill aimed at improving border security in August.) The candidates are close in the polls, but Giannoulias could be put over the edge if Latino voters show up in large numbers as they did for Obama in 2008.

5. Bill Brady (R) vs. Gov. Pat Quinn (D) for Illinois governor

Brady and Quinn have been largely quiet on their immigration views, perhaps because of Illinois’ large number of immigrants from Mexico, Poland and India. While Quinn condemned Arizona’s SB 1070 immigration crackdown as “un-American,” Brady declined to state an opinion on the law. He has also remained silent on the DREAM Act, but says the country should find a way to secure the borders and mend legal immigration without “amnesty.” For now, Brady reportedly has a slight edge.

Also on the Chronicle list are five congressional races: Texas’s 23rd Congressional District, Arizona’s 7th, Colorado’s 3rd, California’s 47th and Nevada’s 3rd.

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