Obama won big among Hispanics — with GOP's help
By Andres Oppenheimer
The Miami Herald (FL), November 5, 2008
One of the big surprises of Tuesday's elections: Florida's Hispanic population voted heavily for Democratic candidate Barack Obama after decades of allegiance to Republican presidential candidates.
If the exit polls are correct, Obama won 57 percent of Florida's Hispanic vote, while Republican John McCain won 42 percent. It was the first time that a majority of Florida Hispanics voted for a Democratic president since the Hispanic vote started to be counted in the 1980s, pollsters say.
''It's spectacular,'' Democratic pollster Sergio Bendixen told me late Tuesday. “It's the result of a structural change in the makeup of the Hispanic vote in the state, which is no longer as dominated by the Cuban-American vote as it used to be.''
This time, recent waves of immigrants from Puerto Rico, South America, Central America and the Dominican Republic made up more than half of the state's Hispanic vote.
While a majority of Cuban Americans were expected to vote for McCain, their numbers were not enough to swing Florida's Hispanic vote to the Republican candidate, he said.
At the national level, more Hispanics seemed to have voted for Obama than for other recent Democratic candidates: The 67 percent of Hispanics who voted for Obama nationwide surpassed the 56 percent of Latinos who had voted for Kerry in 2004, and the 62 percent of Hispanics who voted for Democrat Al Gore in 2000.
As far as pollsters recall, Obama got the second largest Hispanic vote nationwide since 1996, when President Bill Clinton received 72 percent of the Hispanic vote.
Frank Sharry, head of America's Voice, an immigration reform advocacy group, says the immigration issue hurt McCain badly among Hispanics at the national level.
''McCain's record on immigration makes him a hero for Latino immigrants, but the Republican Party is a threat to Latino immigrants,'' Sharry told me Tuesday night. 'And the `R' next to McCain's name was like an anchor that sunk his chances of winning the presidency.''
My opinion: Hispanics voted Democratic primarily because they are among the hardest hit by the economy and by the Iraq War.
But, as we have reported repeatedly in this column over the past two years, Latinos have good grounds for resenting the Republican Party's growing anti-immigrant stance. Many Republicans in Congress — not McCain — in some cases have bordered on racism.
McCain has a history of goodwill toward Hispanics and had sponsored a comprehensive immigration bill that advocated both securing the border and giving an earned path to legalization to undocumented immigrants.
But as the election neared, he shifted toward a let's-first-secure-the-border rhetoric to woo his party's hard-line anti-immigration vote, and the Republican Party's campaign platform pretty much advocated the unconditional deportation of millions of undocumented workers.
Clever TV Ad
In the end, Obama won over many Hispanics by linking McCain to President Bush's economic policies — 80 percent of Latinos disapprove of Bush, according to exit polls — and by airing a clever television ad in the final week of the campaign in which he spoke to Latinos in Spanish — or, rather, recited his lines in Spanish considering that he doesn't speak the language — and likened his own life story to that of millions of Hispanic Americans.
And McCain gave him some extra help by failing to speak out forcibly against the most visceral anti-immigration advocates in his own party.