Debunking the Myth that Latinos Elected Obama

New America Media, Commentary, Earl Ofari Hutchinson Posted: Jan 07, 2009

Editor's Note: The notion that Latino voters tipped the victory scale for Obama is a self-serving myth, writes the commentator. If any group deserved bragging rights for the Obama win, he argues, it is black voters. Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is "How Obama Won" (Middle Passage Press, January 2009).

The voluntary withdrawal by scandal-plagued New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson from the Commerce Secretary post drew instant and angry demands from some Latino leaders for Obama to pick another Latino to replace Richardson.

In making the demand they fanned two myths. One is that Obama hasnt appointed enough Latinos to his staff and cabinet posts. The other is that Latino votes are mainly why he bagged the White House. Obama transition officials quickly and correctly noted that Obama has appointed more Latinos to senior positions than Bush or Clinton. And thats even before hes taken office.

But its the myth that Latinos tipped the victory scale for him thats even more self-serving. Latinos did vote in bigger numbers and in a higher percentage for Obama than Democratic presidential loser John Kerry in 2004. Their vote did help seal the win for Obama in Florida, New Mexico and Colorado. Bush won Colorado and Florida in 2000 and all three states in 2004. But the electoral math shows that even if Obama had lost both states he still would have beaten Republican rival John McCain.

Pennsylvania, Ohio, and arguably North Carolina were the must-win states. Bush won two of the three states in 2000 and 2004 and cinched the White House. This time Obama won all three. If he had lost Pennsylvania or Ohio, the outcome might have been far different. Blacks make up 20 to 30 percent of the vote in these three states. They gave Obama the crucial edge there. The more than 15 million black voters made up more than 20 percent of the overall Democratic vote in 2008. They gave Obama 96 percent of their vote. This was an all-time percentage high for a Democratic presidential candidate.

If black voters had not turned the Democratic primaries into a virtual holy crusade for Obama, and if Obama had not openly in the South Carolina primary and subtly in primaries thereafter stoked the black vote, he would have been just another failed Democratic presidential candidate. The fight for the White House would have been between McCain and Hillary Clinton.

In the 2008 election, Latino voters increased their vote total by a modest 1 percent from nine to 10 million votes from 2004. Even then Latino leaders and voters were glacially slow to warm up to Obama. In the Democratic primaries they overwhelmingly backed Hillary Clinton. In the general election many Latino voters still expressed deep ambivalence and doubt about Obama. McCain got nearly one-third of the Latino vote. This is pretty much what other GOP presidential candidates typically get from Latino voters. Bushs top heavy Latino vote total in 2004 was a political aberration.

The Latino leaders that pump the myth that they elected Obama do it in part to leverage more numbers and influence in the Obama administration, and in part to puff up the notion that Latinos are now the major ethnic power broker in national politics. Latinos certainly deserve their fair share of Obama appointments and cabinet posts; they need a big voice in his administration on issues from health care to immigration to Latin American relations. But thats far different than turning the quest for Obama appointments into a numbers game, a quota game. Then inferring that if Obama doesnt play ball call him a disappointment or that hes ignoring Latino interests. Obama must not listen to that talk. It does him, his administration and Latinos a disservice.

Latinos certainly are well on the path to becoming major players in national politics, but blacks have been major political players for many years. The black vote has been the Democrats' trump card in every election for the past half century, win or lose. They gave Kerry 85 percent of their vote. Latinos, by contrast, gave Kerry only 53 percent of their vote. Black voters have been so reliable, maybe too reliable, that Democrats have been repeatedly rapped for plantationism; that is for taking the black vote for granted and offering little tangible benefits in return for their unyielding support. Obama didnt change that. He said little during the campaign about failing public schools, the HIV/AIDS plague, criminal justice racial disparities, and the lack of minority business initiatives and funding.

Black voters and elected officials, though, wisely did not demand that he say and do more about these issues as the price for their game changing vote turnout. The Congressional Black Caucus, local and state black Democrats, and civil rights organizations passionately backed Obama in the general election. They pulled out all stops to get out the vote. If any group deserved bragging rights for the Obama win, they do. They would be right to demand even more staff and cabinet appointments from Obama. They havent demanded that.

The Latino leaders who are sweating Obama to appoint more Latinos solely because they are Latinos should do the same.

Related Articles:

Myth of the Latino Vote

U.S. Latino Media Overwhelmingly Favor Obama

Poll: Latino Voters Expect Great Things from Obama

Editorial: It's Time for Obama to Come through for Latinos

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User Comments

tony smith on Jan 31, 2009 at 07:58:12 said:

THIS IS BOGUS! I am black, and I completely disagree. You failed to include all of the states where Latino voters gave Obama a victory. These states include: Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, and Florida. Obama would not have won without these states. Ergo - your argument fails.

Steve Esparza on Jan 20, 2009 at 13:17:28 said:

Hispanics are a major players.
Most people do not care for obama, there are more then 175 million registered voters in this country only 53 million voted for obama. I won't get started with obama, but will keep articles like these
and e-mail them to every Hispanic I know and hopefully they do the same so they can know
what blacks think of their support.

Concerned Latina on Jan 16, 2009 at 13:30:05 said:

I have supported Obama from before he even announced his candidacy, and I still do. I believe he is putting the effort in trying to unify a nation.

In this vein, I would hope that Latinos and African Americans can choose this time as a time of coming together, and try to work through differences as opposed to continue being pitted against each other. We have more things in common than not, and narrow minded prejudices from both sides will do nothing to help heal this rift that seems to exist. We share neighborhoods, we face institutional racism, and sad histories. I would hope we can come together and not complain about who gets what and what is owed. If anything, we owe our communities a coming together and fighting against institutionalized racism, discrimination, and the hardships that befall our communities because of the color of our skin.

akech on Jan 13, 2009 at 12:57:26 said:

I am a black person who would like to respctfully say that I believe the election of Obama could not have happened without people from differnt ethnic groups deciding that they have power to change the direction the Bush administration and the Neocons had taken the country.

It is true blacks poured their hearts and souls into this historic election. However, as a sole ethnic group, they would not have made this historic election possible. If the power of Blacks to elect had been that powerful and possible, we would have elected governors, senators and representatives to represent our needs. We are the only group who (a) fills the "jail industrial complex" traded in Wall Street (b) against whom the justice system is schewed (b) plagued by predatory lending which is killing educational and other dreams leaving use permanent consumers of goods produced by others.

The Blacks have to learn to form alliances with people from other ethnic groups if they want to end the circle or poverty and crime making them prey of "prison industrial complexes" making jail contractors with federal government fithy rich on the backs of its youth.
Without forming healthy alliances and demanding services for our votes, we are on a road to extinction, a road we have been since the voting act was granted!!

Val on Jan 09, 2009 at 16:04:42 said:

You cant change the past, and you can predict the future. All you have control over is the moment. We all must play with the cards we have been dealt in life. Whining and placing the blame on others will not change anything . Obama has overcome the issues of the past and didnt sit around whining and playing the victim of life. He got off his duff and did something. Playing the race card is easy. I want to welcome everyone to the real world, it has plenty of racism for all. Many races suffer from it, not only blacks. One last thing, Attitude is everything., if you get knocked down get up and march on. You will succeed if you belive in yourself. Obama did it why not you.

Nezzie on Jan 08, 2009 at 07:34:17 said:

How long have black people been in America and oppressed? How were black people supposed to vote, we vote democratic every since MLK switched from being a Rep to a Dem. It has never mattered to blacks who the candidate was, we voted for him. We owe no one nothing, give the latino a chance to vote for a hispanic we will see how much of the vote they give to that candidate. It truly matters not black have been owed a lot from America, we have truly gotten nothing, no 3 acres and the mule, nothing.

You know, with all of the illegal immigration and the HB Visa's, we still don't stand a chance. Not to worry, it won't be long before America is Mexico, the hispanics with the anchor babies they are dropping will overtake white America in about 10 years.

USBorn on Jan 07, 2009 at 20:57:46 said:

Oh please, here's Hutchinson, a major player of the race card, arguing against Latinos doing the same. Blacks are masters of the race card game, the latest instance being their insistence that Burris be allowed to take Obama's Illinois seat, despite the fact that the Illinois governor has been accused of corruption on this matter.

According to Hutchinson, 96 percent of blacks voted for Obama. If he doesn't see the racism in this, then Hutchinson is truly blind. Only those who consider Obama the new Messiah would vote in such high numbers for one man.

About 70 percent of Latinos voted for Obama, which is quite substantial given his inexperience and wishy-washiness.

If Hutchinson says that the vote of Latinos is inconsequential, then so is that of Blacks. Whites have always constituted the majority of voters, and they're the ones who put Obama into office, not Blacks.

nativessayno on Jan 07, 2009 at 16:51:45 said:

Thoughtful analysis and finally an objective one.

The premise that I, as an individual citizen owe so much to my Latino brethren....when in fact we already give much (too much) to the needy non-citizens; but without acknowledgements or gratitude from them. I often wonder if they even like "americanos" at all.

The article posted by NAM : Obama Fails Hispanics by Raoul Lowery Contreras, Dec 09, 2008 was downright hysterical despite the fact that PE Obama is still today weeks away from taking office.

Latino rights and open immigration advocates and spokespeople should get on the "bus" with us instead of tell us how our bus "aint" right, is mean to them, ungenerous etc etc. It is akin to having an uninvited houseguest deplore openly your taste in wallpaper!

I personally would like to hear far more from moderate Latinos to balance the extremely slanted pro-open border rhetoric.

Latinos helped vote Bush into office twice; should we blame them for the result? Maybe a little; since they mainly wanted their narrow agenda served; period.

As an Athabascan american...I supported my candidate since Iowa....It was a nailbiter for several months! He helped me to step up and participate in his campaign, and made me feel included too.

He has stated he will address native people's causes....I believe he will, and guess what? I feel so proud and grateful already!

I have the impression he will be firm, active, pragmatic and objective....everything Bush could have been but was not..

MDS. on Jan 07, 2009 at 16:09:37 said:

Well stated. Not boastful. Just the truth.




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