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DNC: Courting the Latino Vote

New America Media, Commentary/Analysis, Q&A with Odette Keeley Posted: Aug 29, 2008

Editors Note: Judith Martinez with Atlanta Latino, a bilingual newspaper in Georgia, was one of eleven ethnic media journalists New America Media sponsored to attend the DNC in Denver. She talked about the Obama campaign courting the Latino vote, with NAMs Odette Keeley. This is a transcription.

What surprised you at the DNC?

This is the first convention that I have attended in my journalistic career and one of the things that struck me, was that even though I was looking for stories about immigration, it just came up everywhere I went. For example I went to the Latino American Policy Forum, which was supposed to be focused on business, and the first thing that was said was that Obama's policy was immigration reform.

The whole presentation was on how important it was for Obama policy officials to strengthen relationships with Latin America, always focusing on respect and putting value on the labor of Latin Americans who are coming to this country and how important it is for Obama's campaign and his policies to better relationships and to invest in Latin America.

That was surprising because I thought they were going to speak on trade and foreign investments and everything to do with business. But, it turns out they were focusing on the human aspects of immigration.

What did the Obama campaign say about immigration?

The head of the Latino Voter Registration Campaign kept saying it is the priority issue in the agenda and Obama will resolve the immigration issue in the first year, if he becomes president. Other politicians didn't want to touch the subject. The Obama campaign was very vocal that the Latino vote matters to Obama and he will invest heavily in making it happen and getting Latino's out to vote and vote for him.

What did you learn about Obamas foreign policy?

One is to double the Peace Corp. volunteers in countries such as central America and South America and Mexico. They believe that Peace Corp. volunteers could also work as advisors to small businesses and create small loans so Latin America can start to promote entrepreneurship in a small community.

Another concern is to create relationships and open dialogues with countries such as Venezuela and Bolivia and mainly with Hugo Chavez. That was one of the questions raised to the officials of the Obama campaign. In the present administration Bush has ignored this giant of Latin America Hugo Chavez and according to the Obama campaign officials they will try to open a dialogue with him and with other countries in Latin America that are going to the left.

Was there a fresh perspective about the Latino vote that you picked up at the convention?

Absolutely. At the National Association of Latino Elected Officials seminar they released some data that really struck me. They expect that 9.2 millions Latinos are going to go out and cast their vote. According to one study there are three priority issues that are important to the Latino community. I thought that immigration was number one, but its not. The number one issue for Latino's is [the] economy. Number two issue is the war in Iraq, most Latinos are pro-ending the war, and the third, is immigration.

Some Latinos think that immigration is being used as an issue to divide Latinos, to think that legal Latinos are Republicans and undocumented Latinos are Democrats. Another trend is that 50,000 Latinos turn to voting age, per month. So the marches of 96, when their motto was 'Today we march-Tomorrow we vote', that is expected in November. Those people that went out to march are now of voting age and will go out and - hopefully - vote for the best candidate. We know that about 62% or more of Latinos are going to vote for Obama.

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