Hispanic voters increasingly represent a blue streak in a sea of red in Utah.
"I think this certainly was a good learning experience for Republicans and Democrats. You can't take it (the Hispanic vote) for granted anymore. After all the numbers, President Obama won because of Hispanics in swing states," Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake, said of the growing influence of the Hispanic vote nationally.
Locally that influence may be on the rise as well.
In a state considered among the reddest in the United States, the increasing number of Hispanic voters in Utah could eventually begin to soften some of that red influence. The 2000 census showed Utah's Hispanic population to be more than 200,000 people -- or roughly 9 percent. But the numbers are growing, especially in Ogden and parts of Salt Lake County. The latest numbers reported by the census bureau show 30.1 percent of Ogden's population of 83,945 people is Hispanic. The percentage of Hispanics in Salt Lake County is currently at 17.4 percent. The percentage of Hispanics in the United States is currently 16 percent and projected to grow, according to the same figures.
The term Hispanic or Latino refers to a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American or other Spanish culture or origin, according to the census numbers.
Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake, who left his position as minority leader of the Democratic Party in the state Senate to launch an unsuccessful bid for Salt Lake County mayor, said 50,000 Hispanic teens turn 18 every month in the U.S.
"If left without guidance, they will vote 60 or 70 percent of the time with Democrats," Romero said. Romero doesn't think the Democratic Party did a particularly good job of targeting Hispanics this past election cycle, it's just that the GOP did even less, he said.
Robles said the largest percentage of Hispanics in the Beehive State is younger than 18, so the trend toward more voters of Latin descent in Utah will continue to rise.
State Democratic Chairman Jim Dabakis claims Hispanics are being driven to the Democratic Party increasingly by the extremism of the Republican Party.
"The Republican Party is uncomfortable with Latinos. They need to talk to a shrink about the problem. Thank goodness for the election.There's nothing quite like an election to bring extremists in either party back towards reality," Dabakis said.
That reality, the Democratic leader said, is that a hard line by extremists in the GOP drives Hispanics voters in the other direction.
Dabakis claims Hispanics in Utah may be increasingly Democratic in inclination, but they aren't comfortable with the assumption. He said state Democrats will hire a full time Hispanic community organizer in the near future to get Hispanics increasingly involved in local issues.
Archie Archuleta, president of the Utah chapter of La Raza, thinks the link between Democrats and Hispanics goes back decades. He said Hispanics have been attracted to the Democratic Party since the days of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
"Democrats have always been the party of the working class, the poor and minorities," Archuleta said.
Ironically, Archuleta said the GOP has only itself to blame in some cases. He notes Republicans historically had done more for Hispanics on civil rights and civil liberties, but have not done a good job of highlighting those accomplishments over the year. He said much of the anti-immigration fervor generated among the conservative wing of the GOP only drove Hispanics further away.
State Republican Chairman Thomas Wright believes the GOP has the right message for Hispanic voters, but admits they have work to do.
"We need to do a better job of reaching out to Hispanics and letting them know what it means to be a Republican," Wright said.
He said Hispanic culture more closely aligns with GOP values, than Democrats.
In the meantime, there are historical highlights for Hispanics in Utah from the last election. Robles was re-elected as assistant Democratic Whip in the Senate, and in the House, Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake, was elected as assistant Democratic Whip -- the first Latina to ever serve in a leadership position in the House.
Hispanics in the Top of Utah
Box Elder County: 50,290 population; 8.5% Hispanic
Morgan County: 9,685 population; 2.6% Hispanic
Davis County: 311,811 population; 8.6% Hispanic
Weber County: 234,420 population; 17.1% Hispanic
Salt Lake County: 1,048,000 population; 17.4% Hispanic
A closer look at the numbers
Ogden: 83,945 population; 30.1% Hispanic
Layton: 68,495 population; 11.2% Hispanic
All data provided by U.S. Census