From Florida to Virginia, Massachusetts to California, candidates and political parties seeking to squeeze every vote from a divided electorate are targeting America’s newest citizens. It’s a relatively small bloc but one that can be substantial enough to make a difference in razor-close presidential swing states and competitive congressional races.In Florida, which President Barack Obama won by less than 5 percentage points four years ago, a new analysis of U.S. Census data shows people who naturalized as Americans since 2000 make up 6 percent of the population of voting-age citizens. For months, the Obama campaign has been sending volunteers to citizenship ceremonies to register people and canvassing Miami-area neighborhoods where immigrant families live. In California, where new citizens comprise nearly 9 percent of potential voters, Republicans hope House candidates Ricky Gill and Abel Maldonado can reach that group by highlighting their families’ journeys from India and Mexico, respectively, in search of the American Dream.
Georgina Castaneda, a home-care worker who grew up in Veracruz, Mexico, and now lives in Los Angeles, is the type of person the campaigns are targeting. After years of waiting for her citizenship application to go through the bureaucracy, she passed the U.S. civics test and swore her allegiance to the flag along with thousands of others at a ceremony in March at Los Angeles’ Staples Center. Castaneda said Democratic Party workers walked down the aisles handing out brochures to the crowd. She filled one out while still seated. “My idea was that one more vote could do something, so I registered at the ceremony,” she said.
Political parties have tried to engage new arrivals since at least the 1790s, when New York City’s fabled Tammany Hall political machine organized immigrants, especially the Irish. In this final stretch of contemporary campaigns, the influence of new voters is magnified in several battleground states, where small shifts can produce large impacts on the electoral vote count.