Latino vote critical for Clinton on Super Tuesday
With stepped up campaigning, Obama seeks to make inroads into Clinton's Hispanic support.
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It's not clear what's behind that shift, says Pew's Richard Fry. Heated immigration rhetoric from Republican quarters is the conventional wisdom, but Latinos consistently rank jobs and education over immigration as top issues.Skip to next paragraph
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Hispanic groups say the immigration debate has accelerated Latino voter registration and applications for citizenship in the past couple of years. Since the 2006 election, some 2 million new Latino voters will be registered by November, says Dr. DeSipio.
Hoping to tap that energy, Obama is talking up his support for giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants – a stance Clinton backed off from under fire.
But Clinton's advantage, experts say, hasn't been so much policy as personal.
Clinton received enormous Spanish-language TV coverage in Nevada and California when she walked the streets of a Latino neighborhood in Las Vegas with a local rising political star.
"There was just a sea of people following her going door to door. It was a powerful image and message of her getting out there," says Luis Valera with the Las Vegas Latin Chamber of Commerce. "Obama could have done that just as easily."
Mr. Valera and other Latino observers see signs of a course correction within the Obama camp. Obama came to East Los Angeles last week to stump in the Hispanic community. He has finally joined Clinton on the Spanish-language airwaves with new ads and has sat for interviews with Spanish-language media.
Major endorsements have followed, including from La Opinion, the leading Spanish-language newspaper in the US, and from Maria Elena Durazo, a powerful Los Angeles union leader. In Salinas, his campaign highlighted local endorsements, including from a popular high school teacher, as a way to counter some of Clinton's earlier publicity.
But Clinton beat Obama to many top leaders, including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and activist Dolores Huerta, a figure so revered that Clinton has actually held rallies at schools named after her.
Both are using Spanish-speaking volunteers to phone voters on weeknights and to canvass neighborhoods on weekends. For Obama's camp, it's a chance to introduce their candidate and level the playing field against their rivals.
"What they have is name recognition," says Juan Francisco Contreras, a regional coordinator for Obama in Oakland. "Over the last few months, we have seen as the senator's message gets out … a lot of people coming our way."
In a few cases, just calling up and speaking Spanish has won support, he says. The campaign is finding the most success with younger Hispanics.
"There may be not enough time, but it can chip away at the Clinton lead," says DeSipio of Obama's revamped outreach effort. As recently as Jan. 22, a Field poll put Clinton up 59 percent to 19 percent over Obama among California Latinos.
Press reports have buzzed about racism as a possible role in the lopsided support for Clinton. Research led by Paula McClain at Duke University has found that Latino immigrants in the South tend to identify most with whites and the least with blacks. That immigrant group is relatively new and is moving into a heavily black region where the two groups compete for low-skill jobs.
"I don't dispute her findings. But it's a big jump from saying that's true to saying Hispanics and blacks have a deep tension, or Hispanics won't vote for African-Americans," says Dr. Segura.
When broaching the subject, nearly every Latino expert and ordinary citizen alike rattled off a list of black politicians who have won strong support from Latino voters, including former New York City Mayor David Dinkins and Obama himself.