Election 2012: “Latino” Democratic National Convention

When Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was named the chair of the 2012 Democratic National Convention, the Twitter-verse buzzed with ¡órales! and 'way to go’s.'  This makes the charismatic mayor one of the most high profile Latinos in President Barack Obama 2012 re-election campaign, although not the first Hispanic to chair a political party’s nominating conference. That distinction belongs to former New Mexico governor, Bill Richardson, who chaired the 2004 convention and later ran unsuccessfully against the President.

This move is seen as one of many attempts to court Hispanic voters--including modifications to deportation procedures--and convince them to vote in large numbers for the President, as they did in 2008.

Watch Obama’s nomination acceptance speech here:

Democrats have identified Latinos as a crucial vote, particularly in the so-called Southwest battleground states of Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico--with the results could tip a tight election toward or away from the President.

The pressure will be on Villaraigosa, who was first elected mayor in 2005 and re-elected in 2009, not just to set the tone of the convention where the party’s platform on issues such as the economy and immigration is decided. Crucially, he will be expected to deliver Latino votes on Election Day.

That may be easier said than done. Although Hispanics historically vote Democratic and have been turned off by the tenor of the GOP Presidential debates on immigration, a recent Latino Decisions poll shows that while the President’s approval rating among Hispanic voters stands at 70%, only 43% of those surveyed said they are sure they will cast ballots for him in November. This is due to the fact that the Latino community has been disproportionately hard hit by the recession, with household wealth plummeting 66% between 2005 and 2009, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Then there’s the Hispanic unemployment rate, which at 10.5% is higher than the national rate of 8.3%.  Other “disappointments” the lack of immigration reform which candidate Obama promised within his first year in office coupled with record deportations.

Villaraigosa is known as a charismatic leader who will need to turn up the charm offensive to convince undecided and skeptical Latinos to give the President a second chance, although his first task will be making sure the convention in Charlotte, North Carolina held between September 3 and 6 - packed with diverse delegates - runs smoothly.

Villaraigosa is not without controversy. Combining his last name of Villar with his ex-wife’s - Raigosa, he has been at the center of two cheating scandals, most recently in 2007 with a local television anchor. He is ineligible to run for a third vote, making the success of the convention and delivering Latino votes critical for his political legacy.

Viviana Hurtado, blogger-in-chief at The Wise Latina Club, is a Washington, DC based Latina politics contributor. Read more of Viviana Hurtado's political posts here.