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Latino activists aim to boost participation in U.S. midterm vote

By Edith Honan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A coalition of Latino groups is launching a new push to register voters and mobilize Hispanics ahead of the 2014 midterm elections in the hope of electing more lawmakers sympathetic to issues important to them, including immigration.

At a news conference to open the annual convention of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), advocates announced the goal of registering 50,000 new Latino voters and mobilizing 100,000 voters to go to the polls in November.

Advocates say they hope disenchantment with Washington will drive a higher turnout.

President Barack Obama's drive for Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration overhaul this year collapsed when House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican in Washington, said the House would not hold a vote.

"We are refueled by our recent memories of congressional inaction and disregard on certain key issues, like immigration reform," said Brent Wilkes, national head of LULAC, which calls itself the country's largest and oldest Hispanic organization.

While immigration is an important issue for Latinos, polls show the economy and education are top priorities for all voters.

The participation of Latinos in national elections has grown gradually over the last decade. Latinos made up 8 percent of the electorate in 2004, 9 percent in 2008 and 10 percent in the 2012 election, according to the Pew Research Center.

Latinos came out in force for President Barack Obama in 2012, a fact Obama credited as helping him win a second term.

"Generally, Latinos are all across the country and our vote can make a difference in competitive races," said Jose Davila of the New York City-based Hispanic Federation.

This week, his group is training Latino teens and young adults for peer-to-peer outreach at concerts, parks, parades and other public gatherings to encourage civic engagement and voting. Davila said he hopes to launch similar programs in neighboring Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

"I think people are angry about the economy, immigration, schools ... and I think there's a great deal of untapped power there with the young Latino vote," he said.

Advocates are also setting up forums across the country to encourage Latinos eligible for U.S. citizenship to pursue naturalization.

According to Pew, only 46 percent of Latino immigrants eligible to become citizens go forward with naturalization, compared with 71 percent of all other eligible immigrants.

(Reporting By Edith Honan. Editing by Andre Grenon)

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