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1 million new Hispanic voters seen

WASHINGTON -- Hispanics could account for 1 million new voters in the presidential election, giving the fast-growing group additional clout in hotly contested states like Arizona and Florida, according to a study by Latino group.

The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, a nonpartisan group representing about 6,000 Hispanic officials, expects a record 7 million Hispanics to vote in November, or 6.1 percent of the total electorate, according to its voter projections, released Tuesday.

In 2000, when Republican George W. Bush won, Latino participation was 5.4 percent, or just about 6 million voters.

''We believe this election year will be historic for Latinos," Arturo Vargas, executive director for the NALEO Educational Fund, said during a press conference.

''Not only will we have an unprecedented number of Latinos participating in the elections, Latinos, we believe, will be the deciding factor in many of the states that are the key focus of the two candidates, particularly in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Florida," he said.

The group also suggested that registered Hispanic voters are less concerned about immigration initiatives than education, health care, the economy, and, more recently, the Iraq war, issues that worry American voters as a whole.

Bush has suggested a new temporary work visa for millions of illegal immigrants, which many analysts saw as an attempt to lure more Latino voters to the Republican camp in his tough reelection battle against Democrat John F. Kerry. Bush got an estimated 35 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2000.

The voter projections are based on polling trends in presidential and nonpresidential races since 1992. The Latino group has issued its voter estimate in the last two presidential elections and said its margin of error in those races was 3 percent.

The biggest jump in new voters, 391,000, will take place in California, a solidly Democratic state, its 2004 survey said. Arizona should see 70,000 new voters, a 2.9 percent rise. Bush narrowly won Arizona in 2000.

Florida, which Bush carried by 537 votes, will see a 1.9 percentage point rise.

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