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Campaign Insiders Share Battle Plan to Capture Latino Votes

By Sally Acharya

Latinos could win the presidency for McCain or Obama if the campaigns lure enough Latino voters to tip the balance in battleground states. So how are the two campaigns reaching out?

Strategists from both campaigns and a pollster from the Pew Hispanic Research Center discussed these emerging voters and the efforts to sway them at a panel on the 2008 Presidential Election: Battle for the Latino Vote.

In several battlegrounds, the Latino population is larger than the razor-thin margins between the candidates. James Thurber, director of AU’s Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies, which hosted the event with the Council on Latin America, shared the latest polling data:

  • Obama is winning Colorado by 5 percent and New Mexico by 6 percent;
  • Obama leads in Virginia by 1.4 percent;
  • McCain leads in Nevada by 1.7 percent;
  • McCain is ahead in Florida by a minuscule .07 percent. (To drive that point home, Thurber reiterated the number: “That’s point zero seven percent.”)

All states have large Hispanic populations that are increasingly registered to vote.

While Obama is attracting Latino voters by a three-to-one margin over McCain, “we take absolutely nothing for granted,” said Daniel Sepulveda, national campaign advisor to Obama.

The campaign is devoting “an unprecedented amount of resources, real money, to this issue,” he said, training local organizers, equipping volunteers, and equipping them to knock on doors. “We know face-to-face campaigning is the most effective campaigning there is. People trust their neighbors,” he said.

Rafael Bejar, an advisor to McCain’s campaign, insisted his campaign has no strategy to target Latinos. They are drawn to the campaign, he said, by McCain’s politics, record, and “long personal relationship with the Hispanic community.”

However, the McCain campaign has produced video spots aimed at Latino voters, including one that was among two campaign spots Bejar showed at the event, which was being broadcast on C-Span. It charged that Obama had no real record of helping Hispanics in Chicago.

While Latino voters are often Democrats who supported Hillary Clinton in the primaries, many of those are moving toward McCain, he said.“I’ve never seen so many specific Hispanic Democrats knock on our door and say, ‘Hey, I want to support John McCain.’”

Mark Hugo Lopez, associate director of the research-oriented Pew Hispanic Center, said that data show 75 percent of Hispanics who voted for Clinton now say they will vote for Obama. While older Latino voters are less attracted to Obama, the bulk of Latino voters are under 30 and “newly registered voters aren’t registering as Republicans,” noted Sepulveda.

The most important issues for this emerging voting group, according to data from the Pew Hispanic Center, are education, cost of living, jobs, and health care. Both campaign advisors insisted their candidate’s positions will ultimately draw more voters.

Obama, said Sepulveda, will effectively appeal to the many Hispanic voters who are low-to-middle income. McCain, said Bejar, will ultimately make inroads into the Latino vote because of his culturally conservative values and economic positions friendly to small business entrepreneurs.