Opinion: Latinos had every reason to go to the polls but didn’t – not at first at glance, anyway.

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Pundits all over the country are talking about a surge in Latino voters.

But until I see how many Latinos cast ballots in this election – and how their votes impacted the outcomes of key races – I’m not buying it.

It’s true. More than 29 million Latinos were eligible to vote this year, according to the Pew Research Center. That’s nearly 13 percent of all eligible voters – both new highs.

But it doesn’t matter much if you’re eligible – or even registered – to vote. Until you cast that ballot, you have no say.

Did Latinos change any outcomes?

So far, it looks like too many Latinos stayed home despite President Donald Trump’s incessant racial attacks. They stayed home despite featured candidates, including the first Latino running for Arizona governor in decades.

And they did not vote in enough numbers to produce that anticipated Democratic “blue wave” in Arizona and across the nation that would have stopped Trump in his tracks.

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Gubernatorial candidate David Garcia shared his thoughts on Latino and minority representation in government during his visit to the azcentral newsroom on Sept. 27, 2018. William Flannigan, azcentral

Sure, Democrats took the U.S. House. And Latino candidates eked out some wins, particularly in Texas, where incumbent Ted Cruz retained his seat and Latinas Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia were elected.

We also know that in Arizona, Latinos picked picked Democrat Kyrsten Sinema over Republican Martha McSally, 75 percent to 22 percent, while in Nevada they picked Democratic senatorial Jacky Rose over GOP incumbent Sen. Dean Heller, 71 percent to 25 percent, according to Latino Decisions' American Election Eve Poll.

Wishful thinking get us nowhere

At first glance, those percentages look positive. But they tell us nothing – zero, zilch – about whether more Latinos cast a ballot on Tuesday, and more importantly, whether those votes made any difference.

As of Wednesday morning, Sinema was trailing McSally in a race that's still too close to call.

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Actress Eva Longoria spoke about the importance of Latinos voting and finding common ground with fellow Americans. USA TODAY

We need to better manage our expectations. Most everyone talked about a huge Latino surge leading up to the midterms.

For instance, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund and Latino Decisions said that one in four Latinos registered to vote had cast an early ballot.

But that “surge” always seems to evaporate on election day because we’re dealing with imprecise numbers – merely estimates – and mostly wishful thinking for a greater an impact.

It may turn out to be true that Latinos made a difference in some key races across the nation. But for now, it looks like the “sleeping giant” – as Latino voters are often referred – snored through the 2018 midterm election.

Latinos are not that powerful (yet)

I get that Latinos want to laser-focus on victories, however small. I question, though, the effectiveness of that messaging. It gives the false impression that Hispanics are a real, powerful voting bloc.

Sadly, it isn't real until Latinos vote in great enough numbers to make a real, noticeable dent. Election wizards will keep combing through the numbers, and that’s a good thing if it helps develop strategies to reach more voters in the 2020 presidential election.

But it doesn’t excuse Latinos' overall lackluster showing.

It's infuriating and discouraging to know that Latinos had every reason to vote, yet overall they stayed home despite Trump’s incessant racial attacks. 

Elvia Díaz is an editorial columnist for The Republic and azcentral. Reach her at 602-444-8606 or elvia.diaz@arizonarepublic.com. Follow her on Twitter, @elviadiaz1.

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