Congressional candidate Jay Seegmiller has seen the numbers that show the sizable advantage Democrats have over Republicans among Latinos and now he’s aggressively trying to tap into that voting bloc before Election Day.
At a rally at Riverside Park on Wednesday evening, he was introduced by Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City, and he delivered a speech that paid homage to his growing up with his neighbor — longtime civil-rights activist Robert “Archie” Archuleta.
“It is so nice to be here so near to where I grew up,” Seegmiller said. “I lived 17 of the first 18 years of my life in Glendale … and growing up in Glendale has a lot to do with who I am. I lived in a diverse blue-collar neighborhood with great neighbors.”
He also hopes to get help from Robles, a popular state senator who has represented one of the most heavily Hispanic districts in the state since 2008 and is running for re-election.
Robles told the crowd sitting under the pavilion eating pizza that turnout was going to be critical and that more diversity in the political process will result in electoral change.
“Thank you for carrying the flag of what Utah looks like,” she said to the 40 volunteers, most of them carrying clipboards with targeted voter data attached.
Seegmiller said he is in line with Latinos on a wide-range of policy issues — namely the Dream Act. That legislation, which failed to pass Congress in 2010, would have granted a pathway to citizenship for children brought to the country illegally by their parents.
He also said he supports keeping President Barack Obama’s deferred-action policy in place. That executive order grants work permits to illegal immigrants who meet specific criteria, including that they have no felony convictions and are between ages 16 and 31 — though it does not result in the illegal immigrant attaining citizenship.
Both of those issues have resonated deeply with Latinos throughout the country and, in national polls among Latinos, Democrats have consistently led Republicans.
In a Latino Decisions poll released Monday, 57 percent of Latino registered voters said they planned to vote for the Democrat in a congressional race, compared to 17 percent who said they would vote Republican.
Chris Stewart, the Republican running against Seegmiller, said his campaign is not specifically targeting Latinos, even though he recognized they make up 17.4 percent of the Salt Lake County population.
“It’s always a concern when any segment of the population has a disproportionate positive response to their competitors or their opponents,” Stewart said. “The Latino community is a really important part of the district and it’s a very important part of Salt Lake City, but the problems that Latinos are facing are the same problems that anyone in the district is facing — lack of a job and a sense of pessimism seeping throughout.”
He also said he is “middle of the road” on the Dream Act and said it was “unfair” that children are punished for the parents’ decision to enter the country illegally.
“There are some [Dream Act] elements we support,” Stewart said. “Allowing some to serve in the military, for example.”
The 2nd Congressional District in which they are running includes much of western Salt Lake County as well as 13 counties — including traditionally conservative areas such as Washington and Davis counties.
But the lack of support Republicans have among Latinos — even in Utah — could be reflected in the balance of how many are seeking office for the state Legislature within each party.
The Democrats have nine Latino candidates running in legislative races, compared to just one Republican Latino — Andres Paredes.
“I see myself as a pioneer,” said Paredes, who is challenging Democrat Angela Romero for House District 26. Romero was supposed to be at the Seegmiller event, but couldn’t make it due to a scheduling conflict.
Democrats are touting Latinas like Romero, however, as one of six of female Hispanic candidates running this election cycle. At a fundraiser just a few weeks ago, the party had a goal of raising $23,000 for those candidates. Instead, they collected $43,000.
Seegmiller said that diversity within the Democratic Party is an advantage and he believes the untapped potential of that vote is significant enough that his campaign just hired a full-time Spanish speaker.
“It’s critical outreach,” he said, noting he doesn’t speak Spanish himself.
Phil Bernal, associate director public works for Salt Lake County, appeared with Seegmiller and Robles at the Riverside Park event and fired up the volunteers as they prepared to fan out into the Rose Park neighborhood and register more voters.
“You’re not just the future of this neighborhood, but also the Democratic Party and the state of Utah,” Bernal said. “This is what you’re doing here. What you will do tonight, what you will do tomorrow ... is what will make Utah great.”