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Nevada is a key battleground state, and both President Barack Obama and his GOP rival Mitt Romney are aggressively courting Hispanics, who comprise 26 per cent of the population. In a series of interviews the week before the election, several Hispanic voters told The Globe and Mail the two most important issues are the economy and immigration, in that order.

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While the state supported Mr. Obama in 2008, by a margin of 12 per cent, Hispanic voters remain frustrated by the dismal economy. Nevada has the nation’s sixth highest foreclosure rate and 12 per cent unemployment. Latino voters, however, prefer Mr. Obama’s stance on immigration. The President brought in the Dream Act, which will allow those brought to the U.S. illegally as children a chance to stay if they attend school or serve in the military. This year, the number of eligible Hispanic voters across the country has grown to a record 23.7 million, up more than 4 million since 2008, totalling 11 per cent of the country’s 215 million eligible voters, according to the Pew Research Center. However, their participation at the polls has lagged, and their level of engagement in this year’s election is a key unknown. Clearly, Hispanics are a burgeoning demographic force; by 2030, they will comprise 22 per cent of the U.S. population and will reshape the country’s electoral map.

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Javier Barajas, 54, owner of Lindo Michoacan restaurant: Mr. Barajas doesn’t think Mr. Obama has implemented enough economic reforms to help the country recover from the recession. “The biggest mistake the President made was to give all the money to the banks and insurance companies. He could have given each family a $10,000 loan instead,” he says. Mr. Barajas, who believes too many social programs dull ambition, thinks Mr. Romney would be a superior manager of the economy, and motivate people to become more entrepreneurial. Mr. Barajas arrived as an illegal when he was 18, and benefited from the 1986 amnesty passed by president Ronald Reagan. He scraped together enough money to start a restaurant. Today, a staff of 300 prepares delicacies such as fresh cactus and tongue tacos at three locations.

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

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Maria Jimenez, 43, owner of small clothing shop El Disco Loco: Ms. Jimenez is backing Mr. Obama because of his health care reform and support for the Dreamers. The President has put a temporary halt on the deportation of young people without legal status who were brought here as children. “Latinos need a route to legalization,” says Ms. Jimenez, who benefited from Ronald Reagan’s 1986 amnesty. “Imagine if all Mexicans stopped working – it would kill the U.S. economy. We do the work that Anglo-Saxons don’t want to do,” she says. Ms. Jimenez still believes in the Obama administration’s commitment to help Latinos who work as bus boys, blackjack dealers and maids to get ahead.

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

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Felicia Ortiz, 34, co-founder of Cluster Consulting, which provides software support to construction companies: Ms. Ortiz, who has an MBA and is a U.S. citizen, supports Mr. Obama because she wants the Dream Act passed, and the legalization of millions of undocumented Latinos. “We do not vote in a bloc or because of ethnic background. We think of what is good for the entire country,” she says.

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

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Norberto Madrigal , 34, co-owner of Lunas Recycling: Many of his friends and business associates assume that Mr. Madrigal – a Latino and co-owner of a recycling company – is a natural Democrat. “I tell them, not so fast,” he laughs, as he strolls through a warehouse filled with old tires and refuse from demolition sites. “Mr. Obama has done a good job promoting himself to the Latin community. But I am on the fence.” Mr. Madrigal’s family immigrated here from Mexico when he was a baby. He is one of thousands of Las Vegas Hispanics who have never voted before this election. While he doesn’t agree with Mr. Romney’s stance on immigration, he is impressed with his business background. Lunas Reycling, which depends on the construction industry, has done so poorly since 2009 that the company has laid off three-quarters of its 350 employees. Demand for its services has improved in recent months as more houses are being built, but Mr. Madrigal fears that once banks release their foreclosure inventories, business will dry up again.

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

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