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The 2008 Hispanic Vote for President: Obama? Maybe

The 2008 Hispanic Vote For President

PHOENIX (By Jon Garrido, Hispanic News) June 12, 2008 — The tricky politics of immigration, an issue once seen as a driving force of the 2008 election, has been relegated to a not discussed topic.

John McCain and Barack Obama both support giving legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants, a position that strategists see as crucial to winning over Hispanics. But Republican and Democratic candidates are also wary of alienating white conservatives and blacks who oppose granting legal status or benefits to undocumented persons who entered the United States.

The searing rhetoric from opponents who brand comprehensive immigration reform as “amnesty” has made immigration reform the topic virtually untouchable, according to strategists and lawmakers.

“Politicians from both parties are caught between Lou Dobbs voters and Hispanic voters. Presidential candidates will avoid this issue — Obama and McCain — and when they can’t avoid it, they’ll straddle,” said Tamar Jacoby, president of Immigration Works USA, a coalition pushing for an immigration overhaul. “It doesn’t pay as an electoral issue.”

The high-profile Dobbs is a CNN host who has uses his daily television show as a platform to protest undocumented immigration.

McCain and Obama have spoken of their support during the campaign for an immigration overhaul, but neither has made the issue a major part of his presidential bid. Each has reason to tread carefully.

McCain’s position is a sore point between him and the conservative GOP base. He is caught between shoring up those core constituents and drawing support from Hispanics.

McCain is trying to appeal to one group of voters that hates the other,” said Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.), the chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

McCain said he would sign legislation to legalize undocumented immigrants, but says such action should only be taken after border security is strengthened.

For Obama, who is struggling to win over Hispanic voters, the predicament is less pronounced but no less puzzling. On immigration issues where he and McCain differ, Obama’s views are out of synch with those of most voters, polls show.

Obama’s support for giving drivers’ licenses to undocumented immigrants is a prime example; polls show the public overwhelmingly opposes it. Obama also supports giving legal status to immigrants who were brought to the United States undocumented as children and have completed two years of college or military service.

Democrats “do want to be out front on it, but they fear alienating those blue-collar, skeptical voters,” Jacoby said.

Obama got a taste of that backlash recently. He drew heavy criticism in the blogosphere for suggesting conservative cable TV hosts who routinely rail against undocumented immigrants are partly to blame for an increase in hate crimes against Hispanic people.

“A certain segment has basically been feeding a kind of xenophobia,” Obama said at a fundraiser in Palm Beach, Fla. “If you have people like Lou Dobbs and Rush Limbaugh ginning things up, it’s not surprising that would happen.”

The comment was a nod to a widespread feeling among Hispanic voters that bitter rhetoric against undocumented immigrants is really veiled racism against U.S. citizens and legal residents who are American Hispanic.

“The volatility of the issue discourages the national candidates from aggressively promoting the need for comprehensive immigration reform,” said Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif. “When they’re asked, they respond, but I’ve come to the conclusion this campaign will not likely be a useful educational tool for demonstrating the compelling need for reform.”

Candidates are finding other, less risky, ways to telegraph their sympathy for Hispanic voters.

McCain has a TV ad praising Hispanics’ service in Vietnam and Iraq and saying some “love this country so much they’re willing to risk their lives in its service in order to accelerate their path to citizenship.” Obama spoke Spanish in an ad aired in Puerto Rico that focused on economic concerns.

In Congress, Democratic leaders are skittish about immigration votes. Instead, they are holding House hearings — but no votes — on a measure written by one of their more conservative members, Rep. Heath Shuler of North Carolina, to strengthen border security and crack down on employers who hire undocumented workers.

In February, for example, Democrats joined Republicans to forbid undocumented immigrants from getting an economic relief tax rebate.

More recently, Senate Democratic leaders were forced to pull provisions from an emergency Iraq spending bill that would have awarded work permits for immigrant farm and seasonal workers.

“Congressional Democrats are struggling to figure out whether they want to sound like Republicans-lite or whether they want to actually get out in front of the issue and lead,” Baca said.

Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., a supporter of a broad overhaul, said candidates in both parties face that dilemma.

“You have to ask yourself, ‘Do I want to really get out front on an issue that isn’t really going anywhere and my opponent can demagogue it and misrepresent my position?'” Flake said. “If you’re going to go out on a limb on something, there has to be a payoff, and on this, there just isn’t.”

Never-the-less, to win the presidency of the United States, Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama or Republican presidential nominee John McCain will need the Hispanic vote.

The Hispanic vote in key swing states — such as Florida, New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada will decide who wins in November in those states.

If winning the Hispanic vote in key primary states such as Nevada, California, Arizona, Florida and Puerto Rico was any indication of the esteem Hispanics hold for Hillary Clinton, the Hispanic vote would have turn out even more so to support Hillary Clinton as the 2008 presidential Democratic nominee in her quest to become President of the United States.

Unfortunately, this is not the case and now the race between Senator Barak Obama and Senator John McCain has lost its luster for Hispanic voters.

Sen. Obama didn’t do well with Hispanics in the primary season, and he can’t win the White House without our massive support.

The outpouring of harsh anti-immigration rhetoric by Republicans has caused the Republicans to cut off their noses to spite their faces and the consequence is John McCain is between a rock and a hard place in convincing Hispanics to vote for him.

While most Hispanics have traditionally voted Democratic and have flocked in record numbers to the Democratic Party in the recent primary elections, it would be a self inflicted wound to take for granted the Hispanic vote.

Clinton beat Obama among Hispanics by 73 percent to 27 percent in New York, by 69 to 30 percent in California, by 68 to 32 percent in Texas, by 70 to 30 percent in New Jersey, by 61 to 35 percent in Florida and Clinton beat Obama among Hispanic voters by wide margins in nearly every state, capping it off with a 36-point victory in Puerto Rico on June 1. Obama beat Clinton among Hispanics in his home state of Illinois and others, but they were few and far between.

Pollsters say that Obama’s biggest weakness within the Hispanic community lies with foreign-born Hispanics, who make up nearly half of the estimated 13 million registered Hispanic voters.

All of this poses a huge challenge to Obama.

Obama needs to win the Hispanic vote by a margin of more than 55 percent in Florida, and by more than 65 percent in New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada. And if likely Republican nominee Sen. John McCain gives the Democrats a fight in New Jersey, California and Pennsylvania, Obama will need to do even better than that in these states.

Will Obama be able to do that? A poll released last week by Democracy Corps, the James Carville-Stan Greenberg group, shows Obama beats McCain among Hispanics by 60 percent to 34 percent. A Gallup poll also released last week shows Obama is ahead among Hispanics by 62 percent to 29 percent.

Many Democratic strategists are hailing these figures as a good sign for Obama. A new report by the New Democrat Network shows the number of Hispanic voters in this year’s primary season has tripled since the 2004 primaries, and the Democratic party has increased its share of Hispanic voters by 66 percent over the past four years.

“There is a new dynamic in the Hispanic electorate: We are seeing a very high level of civic participation, and a big swing toward the Democrats.”

Republicans counter that McCain needs to get close to the 38 percent to 40 percent of the Hispanic vote that was won by President Bush in the last two elections, and that he is not too far from that goal.

“This contest is only beginning and we have five months to remind Hispanics across the United States, John McCain is not a friend of the Hispanic community,” says Jon Garrido, president and CEO of Hispanic News.

According to Garrido, “When Senator John McCain officially began his campaign for president, Senator McCain passed the U.S. Senate baton to Senator Jon Kyl to lead the U.S. Senate campaign to have Comprehensive Immigration Reform approved. This would have included the Dream Act. Senator Kyl assumed the leadership role but in his quest to approve Comprehensive Immigration Reform legislation, Kyl proceeded to gut the legislative bill with language that if it had been approved, would have deported the 12 million undocumented back to Mexico for as little as jaywalking across the street.”

“After the defeat of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform legislation, Senate Democrats marked up a separate bill for the Dream Act and on final vote, Senator McCain walked out of the Senate chambers to avoid voting on passage of the Dream Act. The Dream Act was defeated because of Senator McCain,” added Garrido.

To date, Senator John McCain when asked if he supports passage of Comprehensive Immigration Reform quickly responds with, “I got the message, secure the border first before Comprehensive Immigration Reform is ever again considered in the U.S. Senate.”

While McCain’s “I got the message,” is clear, the truth is the anti-Hispanic rhetoric against immigration was instrumental in defeating Republicans in the 2006 elections to the U.S. Congress and the anti-Hispanic rhetoric against immigration in this year’s congressional elections will be a tsunami to obtain more Democrats in the House and obtain six more senators in the U.S. Senate enabling a super majority to approve Comprehensive Immigration Reform and bring to an end the Iraq War.

Coup de Grâce

The coup de grâce will be the end of George Bush as president of the United States bringing to an end the demise of the United States of America.

Without giving a commitment to approval of Comprehensive Immigration Reform, Obama will try to win Hispanic voters by focusing on issues that most affect them, such as the economy, universal health care and the war in Iraq. McCain will most likely engage in a negative campaign to stress Obama’s lack of experience, and depict him as weak on national security in an increasingly dangerous world.

The Hispanic vote is now up for grabs

When you have candidates from the same party running against each other, voters pick their favorites, but then when the primaries are over, they are forced to change their allegiance. That is particularly difficult to do when a race is as intense as the one we went through this election year, in which voters seemed to feel so passionately about their candidates.

So, now that Obama is the Democratic presidential nominee, where do Hillary Clinton’s supporters go from here? These are their choices: Support Barack Obama, the rival she ran such a ferocious campaign against; cross party lines and give their vote to Republican John McCain; or go for the unthinkable — abstain from voting.

That certainly is one dilemma affecting the Hispanic voting population. A good portion of the fastest-growing sector of our electorate is now faced with the daunting prospect of having to reconsider their commitment.

Even after Obama increased his Hispanic voter outreach, the numbers didn’t move his way. Major endorsements from high-profile Hispanic politicians such as Rep. Luis Gutierrez, former Denver Mayor Federico Pena and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson has done nothing to influence the Hispanic vote.

Now that Obama has Clinton’s endorsement as well as that of some of her high-profile supporters, will he be able to entice Hispanic voters who had chosen her over him? Pollster Sergio Bendixen, one of Clinton’s main advisers on Hispanic affairs, says Obama is going to have to win over Hispanics on his own. “He will have to focus his message on the issues that are important to Hispanics in order to get their support,” he said, “issues such as universal health insurance and an economy that produces new jobs.”

The same thing could be said for presumptive Republican candidate John McCain. He will, without a doubt, have to work hard to earn the support of Hispanics. The Democratic Party has a significant advantage over Republicans among Hispanics, who were hurt by the negative tone of the immigration debate.

In a Pew Hispanic Center poll conducted last year, only 23 percent of Hispanics called themselves Republican, and a great majority said the Democratic Party shows more concern for the Hispanic community than does the Republican Party.

Also, a Gallup poll in May showed while Clinton would have done better against McCain than Obama, Obama would still beat him among Hispanics, with 62 percent of the vote over 29 percent. But now it’s a new ballgame, and the real race for the White House has begun.

Perhaps now more than ever before, the Hispanic vote is up for grabs. There have been major efforts by national Hispanic organizations and media partners to motivate Hispanics who qualify to become citizens of the United States. The response was phenomenal. Within the past year, more than 1 million legal residents applied for citizenship, and thousands were naturalized. The voter-registration campaigns have been in full force all over the country trying to increase the number of voters, and it is expected that a record 9 million could show up at the polls.

McCain, Obama vie for Hispanic votes

Two eager presidential hopefuls have started courting Hispanic voters, the majority of them jilted by our beloved Hillary Clinton.

But no amount of praise can alter two tough realities: John McCain is not a Democrat, and Barack Obama is a black man in a country where Hispanics and African-Americans have differing views on social and racial issues.

A nationwide poll of 3,086 adults released in January by the Pew Research Center indicated 70 percent of blacks felt they got along very well or fairly well with Hispanics. But only 57 percent of Hispanics said the same about their relationship with blacks.

Asked about how African-Americans are treated in society, 81 percent of blacks believed they faced discrimination when applying for school or a job, shopping or dining, or seeking housing. But 55 percent of Hispanics believed that blacks faced discrimination in those areas.

Nearly half of the black respondents said immigrants reduce the number of jobs open to them; less than a third of the Hispanics said the same.

Figures put the candidates, both U.S. senators, in familiar territory. Illinois, which Obama represents, has the fifth-largest Hispanic population, with 708,000 eligible voters. McCain’s state, Arizona, has the sixth-largest, with 673,000 eligible voters.

The candidates clearly understand they must appeal to Hispanics, whom the Census Bureau has classified as the fastest-growing minority in the United States, 45 million strong.

On June 4, McCain began airing a Spanish-language radio ad saying he can help Americans burdened with the high cost of gasoline and groceries.

The ad, broadcast in the Southwest, closes: “Estamos unidos con John McCain” — “We are united with John McCain.”

Pundits, meanwhile, are favoring two former rivals for Obama’s running mate, each with major clout among Hispanics: Clinton, who threw her support behind Obama on Saturday.

The Hispanic Vote

Despite his Democratic nomination victory, Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) never did make much in the way of inroads among Hispanic voters during the primary season. Nor did he attract the support of more than a handful of members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Now he’s trying to change that.

Within hours of wrapping up the nomination last week, Obama put in a call to Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.), the chairman of the Congressional House Caucus (CHC). And Baca, who like most CHC members had supported Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) during the primaries, said he was ready to help.

“It’s going to be my responsibility, along with many other members, to convince the Hispanic community that he represents their interests,” said Baca.

It may be a tall order. Clinton beat Obama among Hispanic voters by wide margins in nearly every state, capping it off with a 36-point victory in Puerto Rico on June 1.

Baca said Obama failed to gain much Hispanic support during the primaries because “he didn’t reach out.” But Obama is reaching out now; not only did the senator himself call Baca, but Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Federico Peña, the former Clinton Cabinet official, also called last week seeking to get Baca aboard.

What advice is Obama getting from Hispanic members? Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.) said Obama needs accept there is a problem.

“Let’s not make the mistake John Kerry made in 2004, where he basically suspended his outreach to the Hispanic community because he was going to win them anyway,” Gutierrez said.

Gutierrez specifically referenced Obama’s campaign style, often marked by blockbuster events in huge venues, as an ineffective one in the Hispanic community. “There needs to be a lot more retail politics, which allows the candidate to talk about specific policies that aren’t easily transmitted to a 35,000-person audience,” Gutierrez said.

Rep. Hilda L. Solis (D-Calif.) agreed. “It’s about grass-roots campaigning the old-fashioned way. It’s not so much the stadium presentations,” she said.

Obama must make himself known to Hispanic voters

Barack did not win Hispanics. He lost most of the final contests. He lost key states by landslide margins, even after everyone besides Hillary Rodham Clinton agreed the race was over. He struggled to connect with blue-collar whites.

And – less talked about – he revealed a serious vulnerability with the fastest-growing part of the electorate, losing 2-1 among Hispanics in some places.

“The Hispanic community is one that cannot be taken for granted,” said Rep. Henry Cuellar of Laredo, a Clinton supporter whose border district gave Mrs. Clinton more votes than any other in Texas’ primary in March.

Mr. Obama, he said, needs to do “extensive outreach” to Hispanics, particularly Hispanic legislators, a key group the senator – like John Kerry in 2004 – has largely ignored.

Compared with Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Obama was an unknown quantity among Hispanics. There’s a history of black-brown tension, still very much on the minds of older Hispanic voters. Part of it is his own relatively light experience and contacts with Hispanics.

Mr. Obama had never even seen the Texas-Mexico border until a few days before the primary.

“I’ve been in Mexico when I was in college and was going to school in Southern California. I can’t entirely talk about it,” he said after surveying the border at Brownsville.

All of which suggests a steep learning curve on issues of intense interest to Hispanics – a heterogeneous bloc that Sen. John McCain doesn’t plan to cede.

The Arizona Republican may not attract the 40 percent to 45 percent President Bush got.

But activists see a battle brewing, especially in swing states such as New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado and Florida that have substantial Hispanic populations.

A recent Gallup Poll shows Mr. Obama leading 62-29 among Hispanic voters, though other surveys show a much tighter contest.

It may be unwise to commit comprehensive immigration reform

We are at a tipping point in our pursuit for comprehensive immigration reform and ideally we need a pre nuptial agreement before we consent to enter the marriage to support Obama.

However, we acknowledge it may be unwise for McCain or Obama to publically state they will strongly push for comprehensive immigration reform but there are clear signals that can be sent.

For example, if Obama appoints Governor Janet Napolitano of Arizona to any position in the Obama Administration, this will be a clear signal Obama will not support Comprehensive Immigration Reform.

It was Governor Janet Napolitano who approved the Arizona Legal Arizona Workers Act, Arizona’s verification requiring all Arizona workers be verified by E-Verify, the system that confirms social security numbers. In Arizona the E-Verify requirement has led to Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s raids looking for undocumented workers. This is exactly what the United States Homeland Security Department is doing with recent ICE raids. To have Janet Napolitano appointed to possibly Secretary of Homeland Security to replace Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff will be a clear message Obama will continue the polices of George Bush and Secretary Chertoff such as the ICE raid of May 12 of a Postville-based meatpacking plant, Agriprocessors Inc. that took 389 workers into custody.

If Obama appoints Napolitano to anything, Hispanics should not vote in the 2008 presidential election.

Napolitano is reportedly a gay lesbian and this goes against moral values American Hispanics feel strongly about. The Catholic bishop of Phoenix has forbidden Janet Napolitano from attending Catholic churches of the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix.

The biggest offense toward Hispanics is Janet Napolitano when on the last day as U.S. Attorney for Arizona, Janet Napolitano and Sheriff Joe Arpaio held a press conference when then U.S. Attorney for Arizona Janet Napolitano stated she had stopped the civil rights violations investigation of Sheriff Joe Arpaio known as America’s toughest sheriff for his pursuit of migrant workers.

The reason Janet Napolitano resigned as U.S. Attorney for Arizona was to run for Arizona governor.

When the campaign officially began, Sheriff Joe Arpaio endorsed Janet Napolitano for governor.

Quid pro quo? You bet!

Last month Sheriff Joe Arpaio arrested approximately 1000 undocumented and promptly ICE deported them to México.

Yesterday, the immigration sweeps continued.

If Obama announces before the 2008 election Janet Napolitano will receive an appointment in the Obama Administration, this will send a clear message Obama is not a friend of the Hispanic community because Napolitano will continue the policies of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff and the U.S. Attorney General each enforcing the policy of President George Bush.

If Napolitano is designated to serve in the Obama Administration, Hispanics should not vote in 2008 for either Obama or McCain.

News services contributed to this article

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