Photo: Grace Wyler / Business Insider
DENVER — Vera Ortegon is a Colombian-born microbiologist, a small-business owner, a mother, a former city councilwoman, and “die-hard Republican.” She’s also an Elector, one of just 538 people who cast a vote in the Electoral College, the unelected body that ultimately determines who wins and who loses a U.S. presidential election.
We spoke with Ortegon at a rally here Wednesday, where she introduced Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a rising Republican star who is helping Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney woo Latino voters, the fastest-growing voter bloc in key battlegrounds like Nevada and Colorado.
“As a Latina, I can’t tell you how proud I was of this country…when I saw a Latino, Marco Rubio, introduce the Republican nominee for president,” Ortegon told the audience, before adding a quick jab at Michelle Obama “That was not the first time I was proud of my country!”
Ortegon’s role at the rally, and her coveted status as one of Colorado’s nine Electors, is evidence that the Latino voter demographic is far more complex and heterogeneous than pollsters and pundits would have you believe.
On paper, Oetegon looks a lot like a Democrat. A highly-educated Latina scientist, she spent most of her adult life researching DNA as a professor at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. She now lives in Pueblo, a swing county in suburban Denver that has been trending Democratic in recent years.
But for Ortegon, there is no choice but Romney this election.
“I am a die-hard Republican,” she told Business Insider. “I’ve been a Republican my whole life — my whole family is Republican, my husband, my sons.”
From our conversation, it is clear that while she is very proud of her Colombian background — and serious Sophia Vergara accent — it does not define her identity as a voter.
“I’m very conservative,” she said. “For me, I’m a business owner, so that makes me a good Republican.”
These sentiments have been echoed by other Latino voters I’ve met in Colorado. The state has always had a sizable Hispanic population, but is also removed from the border, so immigration reform — usually viewed as the trigger issue for Latino voters — hasn’t taken on the same significance here as it has in other Western states.
In Ortegon’s view, it’s entitlements, not immigration, that are keeping the bulk of Colorado’s Latino voters in the Democratic Party.
“Most Latinos are really Republicans — we’re a very religious people, we’re pro-life, very conservative,” she said. “But people like free things. Not just Latinos — everyone.”
And that’s where Rubio comes in. Ortegon believes the Florida Senator is one Republican who can win the trust of Latino voters, and deliver the Republican message in a way that resonates.
“He is a beacon of light,” Ortegon said. “He can talk to Latinos about these issues, about leadership. He understands the culture.”
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