Where Do Latinos Go Now?

New America Media, News Analysis, Marcelo Ballve Posted: May 16, 2008

Editor's Note: Latino voters, who supported Sen Hillary Clinton by a 2-to-1 margin in the primary elections, could face a different choice in November if Clinton is out of the race. Latino media and blogs are speculating about where these voters would go in a face-off between Barack Obama and John McCain.

No one has bragging rights over the Latino vote, not yet. And after the massive immigrant rights marches of 2006, the old token "tamale politics" won't work — if they ever did.

With Sen. Barack Obama emerging as the probable opponent to Republican Sen. John McCain, the Latino media and blogosphere have been abuzz with speculation on how the two might fare head-to-head.

Obama did poorly among Latinos against Sen. Hillary Clinton (On Super Tuesday, Latinos voted for Clinton by a 2-to-1 margin). The conventional wisdom has been that he is woefully vulnerable in this demographic. But McCain is not necessarily ideally positioned, according to Los Angeles political columnist Pilar Marrero.

"Both candidates come to the competition with certain disadvantages…. No one can say they have this vote in their pocket," she writes in La Opinión, the nation's largest Spanish-language newspaper.

Latinos are certainly attracted to McCain's "independence, his convictions, his courage and his moderate stance on issues," writes Ruben Navarrette Jr., a syndicated columnist with the San Diego Union-Tribune. Not to mention "his heroic suffering as a prisoner of war."

It remains to be seen, though, how McCain comes down on the immigration question, which he has waffled on since co-sponsoring failed immigration reform legislation in 2006. In the primaries, desperate to avoid being outflanked to the right, he reneged on his once-clear support for comprehensive reform. Speaking in Arizona on May 5 (the "Cinco de Mayo" festivities), McCain tried out what seems to be a new angle: blue-collar Latinos, he said, are harmed by the inflow of undocumented immigrants, and should be sympathetic toward securing the border before demanding an integral solution.

Marrero of La Opinión concludes: If this divide-and-conquer approach is McCain's Latino strategy, "I wish him luck."

For his part, although buoyed by the endorsement of New Mexico's Latino governor Bill Richardson, Obama has been fighting a perception he did too little, too late in reaching out to Latino voters.

On the Hispanic Trending blog, which carried an online interview with Obama, among the first questions was: "Why did your campaign take so long to proactively reach out to Hispanics?" Obama skirted the question, providing a laundry list of his Latino outreach efforts. But the point was made.

In Obama's own bailiwick of South Chicago, blogger and journalist Gregory Tejeda spelled out this frustration. Obama’s “focus on gaining African-American votes and that of the youth of America have created the perception amongst Hispanic people that Obama doesn’t care about their situation."

Obama can point to some victories: he won the Latino vote in the Iowa, Virginia and Illinois primaries. The Mexican-American vote has proven most difficult for him, even in his home state of Illinois, but there is still no clear evidence that this trend wouldn't shift in a general election. Gallup polling published May 1 showed Obama with a 57 percent to 33 percent advantage over McCain among Latinos, suggesting that with Clinton out of the way, Obama would recoup at least some Mexican-American votes.

He should hope he does, because Mexican Americans are crucial in three battleground states that President George W. Bush carried by a margin of 5 percent or or less in 2004: New Mexico, Colorado, and Nevada. Latinos could potentially swing all of these states, as well as Florida, where the right-leaning Cuban American vote has been diversified by second- and third-generation voters and new arrivals from Puerto Rico and Central America.

Latino voters will only make up an estimated 9 percent of the total electorate in November, but their importance, like that of independents, lies in their ability to change their minds. While falling short of a true swing vote, it is a fast-shifting electorate. In 2004, Bush, positioned as a wartime president, won 40 percent of the Latino vote. By 2006, after the failure of immigration reform torpedoed by Republicans' anti-immigrant wing, things had changed. Only 30 percent of Latinos voted for Republican candidates in 2006.

The difference between the results, only two years apart, shows how much is at stake in 2008. What's certain is that Latinos will be building blocks in any victory, so it's important for candidates not to be tempted to use immigration as a wedge issue, argues Janet Murguía of advocacy organization National Council of La Raza. Although Latinos overall are more concerned about the economy and the war, their sensitivities on immigration are raw, especially since hate crimes and apparently punitive federal raids against immigrants are on the rise. After the mass marches of 2006, the safeguarding of immigrants – undocumented or not – became a civil rights issue in these communities.

Another post-2006 lesson: The old token campaign gestures won't work. It's not enough to eat some ethnic food, mumble words in bad Spanish, and pose for photos with Latino community leaders.

“I think the time has passed for tamale politics,” Eliseo Medina, executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union, was quoted as saying in Congressional Quarterly. “People have become much more attuned to what candidates do, not just what they say,” he added.

That's certainly the case with California superdelegate Steven Ybarra, who on May 9 went public with an unconventional ultimatum: he would choose between Obama and Clinton – depending on who gave him $20 million to register Latinos, a voter drive he said could mean the difference between victory and defeat and also make up for years of under-funded similar efforts. Underlying Ybarra's demand was his frustration – common among Latinos – that there's little substance in efforts to court them.

"I am going to ask the candidate where is our place at the table," he wrote in March on Latino political Web site Hispanicvista.com. "Because we are tired of just cooking, cleaning up, and getting blamed when the party goes bad."


Related Articles:

Beyond Black and White: Ethnic Media Respond to Obama’s Call for Dialogue on Race

The Latino Vote Is Not in the Democratic Bag--Yet

Everyone's an Expert on the Latino Vote, Except Latinos

Univision Debate: Republicans Make Hard Sell to Latinos

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User Comments


CarlosnLA on May 19, 2008 at 19:08:47 said:

dudeabides, Obama has not done one thing for immigration reform or any other important issue in his tenure as Senator. The only thing consistent about Obama is his ability to narrate "speeches". He would be the first official Black Democratic candidate for the Presidency of the US which would in fact be a NOVELTY (something NEW). Don't be so racially sensitive ! Latinos have a long voting history not just limited to the past 8 years, now who's short-sighted?
Alot is just as incorrect as your grammar " someone with a lot guts", it's "of" guts. This article and your comment is all about extreme self-interest and that's an unfortunate predicament in the political game. As far as diversification, why exclude the Asian community or any other? Could it be that their numbers are not as relevant to your interests ? Your group can hope and dream all it wants but fortunately there are voters with their feet on the ground and that makes us "the most rational team in town".


dudeabides on May 19, 2008 at 11:13:57 said:

CarlosnLa: McCain is all over the map for your cause: Immigration Reform. He is both for and against your cause...which is not thinking "outside" the box; it is nowhere near the box!

Obama is, however, consistent in attempting to include recognition for all Americans;.... not just latinos. BTW, his race is NOT a novelty, anymore than yours is! I find your novelty remark highly misplaced and insensitive.

Did the latinos vote for someone with a lot guts (this is a two-word expression) "alot" is not a word... during the last 8 years? Someone named George?....Voting from extreme self-interest proves it can be very short-sighted and even unfortunate.

My argument that the whole ticket will potentially become balanced with diversity- that is true for both parties...It is as "common as dirt" principle, not a new concept. Your group can demand action all it wants but you are not "the only game in town".


mauro on May 17, 2008 at 20:53:44 said:

The support for Hillary Clinton in our Latino community continues to grow,”\" Hillary, is commitment to public service continues today. Whether it\'s fighting for universal health care, making college more accessible or creating better job opportunities, her record on issues important to Latinos speaks for itself. I am proud to support Hillary


CarlosnLA on May 16, 2008 at 19:14:01 said:

Latinos will carry John McCain to victory in November because we're SMART enough to differentiate him from Conservative Republicans. McCain has demonstrated his diligence to fight for Immigration Reform. He has shown he's committed to it and to many other issues that affect and are vital to us. Latinos have heard way too many false promises and eloquent speeches from politicians in the past in this country and in Latin America to be fanatically swayed. We know that a record of struggle and accomplishments is worth much more than thousands of speeches. We demand ACTION and would'nt care if the President was a GREEN Martian with a record of providing such. A Black President is not a novelty to those of us who have lived outside the U.S. or think outside the box. Besides, allegiance to a political party is like playing follow the leader and we're way too mature for those games.
John McCain has a record that has proven he's a Moderate Thinker that is unafraid and brave enough to disagree with his own party if need be. Historically, Latinos have always had an admiration for leaders that have shown to have alot of GUTS !!!!
Obama needs alot more than a Latino surname on his VP ticket in his cry for HELP !


Marcelo on May 16, 2008 at 14:10:08 said:

dudeabides, I have to say I agree with you that Hillary Clinton, unless something very dramatic happens, is out of the race. It's an interesting point you bring up about how Obama could look to folks like Richardson perhaps as a VP choice, to solidify his outreach to Latinos. Another possible VP pick for him is Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado; Colorado might actually be a harder win than Richardson's state New Mexico as things stand, so neither is out of the range of possibilities.


dudeabides on May 16, 2008 at 14:09:19 said:

I think a factor that is not settled is the VP choice. Also, if Richardson will be considered for a very high level diplomatic position that may appease many Latino voters and enhance the ticket's appeal. Of course MacCain may do that as well...diversify his ticket.

Sorry Patty, Hillary has lost the primary...poor planning, stategy and relying too much on Clinton name recognition. Owing HRC "big Time" is meaningless now. My opinion is that she was the racist in this mix, the only thing she left out was smoking a corncob pipe and whistling Dixie. I lost a great deal of my regard for her and Bill Clinton this year.

It is my strong desire to see the illegal immigration issues addressed and resolved conclusively.


Marcelo on May 16, 2008 at 11:37:40 said:

Dear Ivan Thanks for your comments on the article. One factor to throw into the analysis, which I did not flesh out in the article: the only real issues separating out Hispanics/Latinos from all other demographic groups: immigration and the war. Latinos are more anti-war and pro-immigration reform than the rest of the population. If Obama can pin the war and the failure of immigration reform on McCain, he will have a good chance of great traction among Latinos ...r


Ivan D. Ivanov, Esq. on May 16, 2008 at 09:56:22 said:

Hmm. Very interesting article. Demographics in America is drastically changing before our eyes. Latinos will be the decisive vote come November. It is very true that Obama comes up with a lot of baggage, with preconcieved notions that Latinos and blacks compete for the same jobs, etc.
Still, the big problem for McCain remains his own party. Last summer, the GOP alligned with their 5% KKK constituency and said loud and clear: we are the white-anglo-saxon-protestant party of America and we don't like different people, regardless of whether they are legal or not. Latinos and all other newly-American citizens will not forget that. That will be the decider in favor of the Democrats.
The GOP will lose in November, courtesy of 8 years of disaster by President Bush. The question is? Will it be a resounding and humiliating defeat or will it be much closer than people predict?
In terms of the Latino vote for President, they will go Obama, for the reason mentioned above.


Marcelo on May 16, 2008 at 09:10:31 said:

Dear Patty, I am the author of the article. I appreciate your comment. I only wonder, if Obama really cannot get the blue collar working democrats, why is he so far ahead in Oregon, and why did he win Iowa? Clearly Hillary has been stronger in the Appalachian states and big liberal states but I wonder if it is true that Obama can "only" get the black vote ...


CarlosnLA on May 16, 2008 at 09:07:22 said:

No Hillary, easy for this Latino, it's John McCain ! Decided long ago and ready to divert fin. support from Hillary to John's campaign.


Patty Richardson on May 16, 2008 at 02:30:22 said:

Hillary Clinton should be the nominee. Obama has too much baggage, his pastor and his wife. Very racist people. If everything came out before Iowa he would be long gone. The hispanics can still vote for Hillary, I am. Mr. Richardson endorsed obama because he wants something, he owed the Clintons big time. He would not be where he was without the Clintons. Obama can only get the black vote, he can't even carry blue collar working democrats, it has been so long, one would think by now he could. GO HILLARY

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