Obama spending underscores Hispanic voters' key role
By Gary Martin
The San Antonio Express News (TX), August 26, 2008
Denver — Hispanics in key swing states are so crucial to the presidential aspirations of Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama that an unprecedented campaign is being launched to sway those voters.
Nowhere is that on display more than here at the Democratic National Convention, where the Obama campaign has pledged a staggering $20 million to mobilize Latinos in Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Florida – four states where the Hispanic vote could seal a victory.
'The dedication of the resources, $20 million, is significant because part of it is targeted to potential voters who haven't registered to vote,' said Adolfo Carrin, the Bronx, N.Y., borough president and an adviser to the Obama campaign.
Sen. Bob Menndez, D-N.J., told the Democratic National Committee's Hispanic Caucus on Monday there are 17 million Latinos eligible to vote.
'The road to the White House comes through our community,' Menndez said.
Republicans have not matched the $20 million outreach program, but McCain supporters say the Arizona senator, who co-sponsored a comprehensive immigration reform bill, is working hard to win over Latinos.
The McCain campaign, which hired marketing guru Lionel Sosa of San Antonio, has launched an aggressive Spanish-language ad campaign that questions Obama's commitment to Latinos.
McCain has also brought former Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio, into the outreach effort.
'He totally understands the significance of the demographic,' Bonilla said of McCain. 'He is sensitive to the Hispanic agenda, and that will serve him well.'
The McCain campaign is trying to turn the tables on Obama, blaming him for immigration reform's failure in the Senate.
'When it came time to pass a comprehensive immigration reform package, Sen. Obama voted for the poison pill amendment that killed the bill,' said Tom Kise, a McCain spokesman here.
But Obama's position on immigration reflects that of his party – and is not far removed from his opponent's previous stance.
The 51-page Democratic platform would allow unauthorized immigrants to pay a fine, learn English and 'go to the back of the line for the opportunity to become citizens.'
That language is similar to the immigration reform bill McCain sponsored with Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass.
McCain backed away from some proposals in the bill following criticism from conservatives he needed to win the GOP nomination. McCain has since said border security must come first.
A recent Pew Hispanic Center poll that showed 66 percent of Latino voters prefer Obama, compared with 23 percent for McCain.
But Hispanic leaders say Democrats have failed to seriously court Latinos in the past two presidential cycles, when former Vice President Al Gore and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., were the presidential nominees.
'Really, this is the first time that both presidential candidates are actively courting the Latino vote,' said Cecilia Muoz with the National Council of La Raza, the nation's largest Hispanic rights organization.
'In the last couple of election cycles, George Bush courted the Latino vote and Democrats didn't,' Muoz said. 'That is why George Bush did as well as he did.'
President Bush captured 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2000 and improved slightly on that four years later.
Comparatively, Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., received roughly 21 percent of the Latino vote when he ran for resident in 1996, according to exit polls.
Hispanics have been a traditional Democratic constituency, but the Latino community is complex, with subgroups of differing ancestry.
'Democrats can assume winning the majority of the Latino vote, but whether you get 50 percent or 70 percent makes or breaks you in an election,' Muoz said.
The $20 million will be used register thousands of Latinos in swing states, Carrin said.
Democrats court the Hispanic vote
By William Douglas
The McClatchy Newspapers, August 27, 2008 Wednesday
Denver — Sensing an opening because of conservatives' hardline approach to immigration, Democrats are increasing their efforts to reach Hispanic voters in key Southwest states, a move they hope will help propel Sen. Barack Obama to the White House.
Republicans, however, aren't ceding the Hispanic vote. Arizona Sen. John McCain, who will accept the Republican presidential nomination next week, is also aggressively courting Hispanic voters, looking to build upon inroads into the voting bloc made by President Bush — a former Texas governor — and his brother, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
However, Democrats think that Bush's low approval ratings, the weakening of the Republican brand nationally, and a perception among some Hispanics that McCain has flip-flopped on comprehensive immigration reform, improve Obama's chances with Hispanics in New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado. Hispanics make up about 12 percent of eligible voters in the Southwest — 37 percent in New Mexico.
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who's Hispanic, predicted at the Democratic convention Tuesday that Obama will get more than 70 percent of the national Hispanic vote, helped by big numbers in the Southwest.
To achieve their goals, Democrats and allied groups are bolstering their Hispanic voter-registration drives and increasing their radio and television advertising aimed at Hispanics, according to the Western Majority Project, a group formed by Democratic strategists to build upon electoral gains the party has made in the Southwest.
'What I'm seeing is a highly motivated and excited electorate eager to have their voices heard,' said Eliseo Medina, executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union, which endorsed Obama. 'Whether we come from Mexico, El Salvador, from Argentina, Panama or Puerto Rico, we all are united and understand that this election is about us, it's about our families, our communities, and this is our chance to be heard.'
A survey done for the Western Majority Project found that Obama holds an overall 64 percent to 25 percent lead over McCain among Hispanics in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado.
A recent poll by the non-partisan Pew Research Center found Obama leading McCain among Hispanics nationally by 66 to 23 percent, which seems to answer questions raised during the Democratic primaries about whether Obama could attract Hispanic votes.
But several Hispanic officials and organizations warn that Obama shouldn't consider heavy Hispanic support a lock.
'The big, big question for Latino voters is not whether Democrats will get the Latino votes. The question is what the margin will be,' said Cecilia Munoz, senior vice president for policy for the National Council of La Raza, a nonprofit Hispanic organization that fights poverty and discrimination. 'If McCain gets 40 percent (of the Latino vote), he can win. And Senator McCain, though he may be behind, is not giving up and is running very hard in the Latino community.'
McCain is looking to follow in Bush's footsteps with Hispanic voters. The president captured between 32 percent and 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004; analysts' estimates vary. Bush's Texas ties and understanding of Hispanic culture attracted voters.
McCain's home state of Arizona offers a sizeable Hispanic population, but he faces a challenge with Hispanic voters because of a perceived shift in his position on immigration. He helped craft a failed immigration-overhaul bill that included a guest-worker program that critics blasted as amnesty for illegal immigrants, but this year on the campaign trail he stressed securing America's borders.
Obama campaign will invest in Latino outreach
By Brandi Grissom
The Denver Post, August 26, 2008