November 11 2004, 9:00 AM
If the exit polls are to be believed, George W. Bush's share of the Latino vote in Colorado was the lowest of all of the states with large Latino populations -- a mere 30 percent. (The next lowest number would be 32 percent in California, according to the same polls.) Now, there is good reason to suspect the exit polls are wrong, especially when it comes to the so-called Hispanic vote. The best example is Texas, where Bush supposedly increased his share to 59 percent -- an improvement of 16 percent since 2000 -- while losing the actual vote in the most heavily Latino border counties to Kerry by wide margins. And Texas is big enough that inaccurate results there would significantly skew the national numbers. But all caveats aside, why the difference between the result in Colorado and those in New Mexico, Nevada and Arizona, where Bush polled in the 40s among Latino voters? It's hard to come up with a demographic explanation. It's not an urban/rural thing -- there are large Latino communities in both urban and rural areas of the state, and in fact rural Costilla County has the highest percentage of Hispanic voters and of Kerry voters in the state. It could be that our percentage of recent immigrants is lower than other states; recent immigrants are believed to be more likely to vote Republican. But New Mexico also has a high number of multi-generation Latinos, and immigrant-heavy California also went heavily to Kerry. The best explanation is the simplest one: Ken Salazar had reverse coattails that helped Kerry with Latinos. Salazar picked up 75 percent of the Latino vote to go along with Kerry's 70 percent. By becoming the de facto leader of the Democratic Party in Colorado, Ken Salazar has helped the party achieve a level of credibility that it just doesn't have in the rest of the southwest.