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It's Immigration, Stupid

New America Media, Commentary, Henry Fernandez Posted: Sep 21, 2008

Editor's Note: The dueling Obama and McCain ads in Spanish-language media show that the parties realize the election might just be won or lost on the issue of immigration - but not in the way they had imagined. NAM contributor Henry Fernandez has this analysis. IMMIGRATION MATTERS regularly features the voices and opinions of immigrant rights groups and advocates.

Two weeks ago, television talking heads got all excited about hockey moms because of Sarah Palin. But both Obama and McCain are now spending big money to buy ads in Spanish to win folks who are much more likely to be soccer or baseball moms and dads Latino voters in Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico. Why are they doing this?

Increasingly the go to source for election activists is the amazing web site Fivethirtyeight.com. 538 updates daily using complex math combined with every poll done anywhere the previous day. 538 figures out in almost real time what states need to be won by each side and whether investments of time and money can turn the outcome of the race.

Heres how 538 lists the top 6 states in terms of return on investment:

1. Colorado
2. Nevada
3. New Hampshire
4. Virginia
5. Ohio
6. New Mexico

Three of those states (Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico) have Latino voting blocks more than large enough to decide the outcome. For both campaigns, this race is coming down to the ability to inspire Latino voters.

The campaigns have different goals and different dilemmas. McCain wants to remind Latino voters of the McCain-Kennedy bill for comprehensive immigration reform. His dilemmas are that his party caused the collapse of this bill and that right wing talk radio bashes Latinos and immigrants daily. Obamas dilemma is that McCain does have a good history on immigration reform. Obamas opportunity is that many conservative activists behind McCain salivate at the chance to belittle Latinos.

This week both campaigns put up new Spanish language ads. McCains makes the laughable claim that Obama sank immigration reform, despite the facts that Obama voted for it and that McCain has previously thanked him for doing so. Obamas ties McCain to Rush Limbaugh who has called Mexicans stupid and unskilled, a belief McCain does not share.

But Obamas ad also makes the point that McCain and the Republicans have two faces (in fact the ad is named Dos Caras) and on this the ad is on solid ground. McCain has, with Spanish language ads, at the National Council of La Raza and in closed to the press meetings, reminded Latinos of his efforts. But, he has also said publicly that he would no longer vote for his own comprehensive immigration bill. The Republican Party platform voted on at a convention McCain controlled, calls for measures that would rip apart millions of immigrant families while cutting federal funds to any city whose local police wont round up undocumented immigrant families for deportation.

McCain quite possibly would not be the nominee without having won the Republican primary in Florida. Exit polls there show that he did not win the white vote but did overwhelmingly win the Latino vote (both Cuban and non-Cuban). This is attributable at least in part to the fact that he has been an ally on immigration while Mitt Romney was looking under every rock to find a nativist vote. (Odd since Romneys family immigrated from Mexico but thats another story.)

Now it looks like neither Obama nor McCain can win the White House without the Latino vote. Obama needs to dominate. McCain needs to get numbers more like the reputed 40% that Bush did. Obama is having more success in reaching his goal with polls showing McCain getting clobbered among Latinos in New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada.

Hampered by the perception that he lets the reactionary anti-immigrant parts of the conservative base drive the discussion, McCain is hard pressed to make a convincing argument that any Republican administration is good for Latinos. Equally important, polling consistently shows that Latinos trust the Democrats more on the economy which is Latinos number one issue (and just about everyone elses as well).

A clear difference between the two campaigns is emerging as McCains campaign has become dominated by Republican operatives which the Dos Caras theme captures well. As one example, the pro-immigrant blogosphere has grown to be extremely active over the last two years, creating the website The Sanctuary as a home base. The Sanctuary asked both campaigns to answer very direct questions about immigration reform.

The Obama campaign responded in a timely fashion with answers which while broadly supportive of immigrants will not appease everyone at the site. But after repeated requests, and even a CNN story about McCains lack of a response, the McCain campaign has refused to respond. This is a big deal for many increasingly influential Latino and pro-immigrant bloggers not just disagreement but disrespect.

Cable news shows have been slow to recognize this change in the presidential race. Many still worry themselves silly every night about women and blue collar voters in Pennsylvania and Ohio (who are no doubt still important).

Asked a year ago, most television pundits would have said that being pro-immigrant or too close to the Latino community was a deadly position for anyone who wanted to be President. Now, both campaigns seem to believe this election will be won or lost on the immigration issue just not how the talking heads thought.

Related Articles:

McCain Ad Lies About Obama's Record on Immigration Reform

McCain and Obama Trade Inaccuracies in Spanish-Language Ads

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