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Immigration Rhetoric Cost McCain Key Supporters

Eastern Group Publications, News Report, Paul Aranda, Jr. Posted: Oct 31, 2008

As the Hispanic population continues to increase, the Hispanic Christian community has become a significant player in political campaigns. At least that is what Sen. Barack Obama had in mind.

Dispelling notions that the senator from Chicago would have trouble pulling in the Hispanic vote, which strongly supported Sen. Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primary, the Obama campaign launched an aggressive operation to court the Hispanic Christian vote in an effort to capitalize on the success that President Bush received during his 2000 and 2004 elections.

The Obama campaign is counting on the Hispanic Christian vote to change sides this election and it most likely will because of one issue: immigration.

Obama is reaching out to Evangelicals like no other Democratic nominee in history, Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Leadership Conference (NHCLC) said.

Rodriguez, who supported Bush in 2004, said Hispanic Christians like John McCain, but their anger over the rhetoric concerning immigration issues by Republicans will cause a dramatic shift in the Hispanic vote.

According to a recent Gallup poll, during the week of Oct. 13-19, Obama leads McCain among Hispanic voters 61 percent to 29 percent.

An alliance of Christian groups led by the NHCLC released a survey in the beginning of the month that shows Obama has regained the Hispanic Christian vote that was so critical to Bushs 2004 reelection. The group's survey has Obama leading McCain by a margin of 50.4 percent to 33.6 percent with 10 percent still undecided.

Unlike African Americans, who as a group have supported the Democratic party in significant numbers for a long time, Hispanics have shown to be much more diverse in their political affiliation. In a joint study released by the Hispanic Pew Center and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, Hispanics are more likely than any other ethnic group to base their political support on their religious affiliation. The 2007 study concluded that Hispanics are in the beginning stages of transforming American religion through, among other things, an increase in charismatic or spirit-filled religious practices.

This term is used to define religious practices that are associated with Pentecostal-influenced beliefs and widely found among evangelicals. The study found that this shift in religious identification would have a political impact as Hispanics find that the pulpit is an acceptable place to discuss politics and social issues.

In an NHCLC statement issued following the survey, Rodriguez said that Hispanic Christians see immigration as a profoundly religious issue.

These findings indicate that both political parties still have work to do when it comes to secure and maintain their Latino support, Gaston Espinoza, associate professor of religious studies at Claremont McKenna College said in the same release. The Latino protestant community is a volatile voting constituency that is sensitive to direct political canvassing and bread and butter issues like immigration.

The Pew study showed that the Hispanic community is experiencing an increase in those who identify themselves as Evangelicals or other forms of Christians. Although the majority of Latinos are still Catholic, the growing Christian community has created a plurality in political ideology within the Hispanic community. Hispanic evangelicals, who are much more conservative on social issues than Hispanic Catholics, are more likely to support Republican candidates.

Despite this evidence, and the Propositions 4 and 8 on the California ballot, which are widely supported by Christian groups, Hispanic Christians have thrown their support behind Obama. Prop. 4 would require parental notification for minors seeking to terminate a pregnancy, and Prop. 8 would change the California constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage. The NHCLC survey shows that Hispanic Christian voters have identified immigration (70.8 percent) as their central issue on par with abortion (74.8 percent).

This does not mean that Hispanics will become a Democratic base much in the way the African-American community has. The NHCLC survey shows that Hispanic Christians are more likely to associate negative talk of immigrants with both parties (43.4 percent) as they are with only Republicans (40.5 percent). The Pew study shows that Hispanics are less likely to be straight-ticket voters.

Randy Carrillo, assistant pastor of Plaza United Methodist Church on Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles and Chairman of the Church of Los Angeles-Northeast Coalition, said it is impossible to categorize Hispanic voters.

I know people who want to vote yes on Proposition 8 and then vote for Obama, he said.

Its diversity, everyone has an issue and convictions.

He said the evangelicals he sees in the Northeast L.A. communities are voting their morals and he agrees with the NHCLC survey that says support for immigration is a value drawn from the Bible.

Related Articles:

Myth of the Latino Vote

U.S. Latino Media Overwhelmingly Favor Obama

Obama: Hispanic Vote Is Crucial

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