- Support NDN
The Battle for Hispanics is Joined
Publish Date:Wednesday, January 30, 2008
For more than two years Hispanics in the United States have been subject to the most racist attacks that we've seen in the American public square in many years. It has been a shameful episode in our history, and something I am proud that NDN has been a leader in fighting these past few years.
As Peter Leyden and I wrote recently in our article, The 50 Year Strategy, Hispanics - along with the emerging Millennial generation - are one of two new demographic groups that were not a major part of our 20th century politics, but are poised to reshape politics in the 21st. And I think we will look back on this week as the week in 2008 that Hispanics were transformed from a community villified by many elected leaders and members of the media to one of the most sought after communities in American politics, a condition that I believe will now be the way Hispanics are treated for the remainder of this critical election year.
I offer four observations about this emerging, and historic, battle for the Hispanic community:
The rise of Hispanics is changing the American electoral map - The nationalization of the Presidential race takes off this week with Super Duper Tuesday now just six days away. As the Presidential goes national now, the candidates of both parties will be forced to speak to Hispanics, the fastest growing part of the American electorate, the largest minority group, and a group heavily concentrated in five of the most critical general election swing states in 2008 - AZ, CO, FL, NM and NV (see NDN's recent report Hispanics Rising for more on this). Given the likely 2008 electoral map it is not an overstatement to say that Hispanics may hold the key to the Presidency in 2008.
Seven of the Feb. 5th states have heavily Hispanic populations - AZ, CO, IL, NJ, NM, NY and CA, the big prize. So when you add in the Nevada Democratic Caucus, it is fair to say that never before in American history will Hispanics have had such influence in picking a nominee for President than in 2008.
As of this morning both the Clinton and Obama campaigns have released new Spanish-language ads in Feb. 5th states. Obama and his surrogates are now playing hard in the Southwest this week, having released a new Spanish-language phone banking tool, and are now invoking a storied and revered family in the Hispanic community - the Kennedys - into the campaign to counter the power of the Clinton name. Both parties will debate over the next two nights in Southern California, one of the most heavily Hispanic regions of the country. The debate is sure to provide interesting insights into the state of the immigration debate. (Reminder: Romney and Huckabee have called for the forced removal of the 11-12 million undocumenteds).
This modern approach to the growing Hispanic population was pioneered by Republicans, specificially George W. Bush and his brother Jeb, something they brought to the national Republican Party from Texas and Florida. In the 2004 Presidential campaign, this modern strategy helped the GOP win those five critical general election states - AZ, CO, FL, NM, NV - all won by Clinton in the 1990s - whereas the Kerry campaign simply did not run a serious Hispanic campaign or adequately target these regions. The GOP was working off of a 21st century strategy in this case, the Democrats a 20th century one. And using this modern stategy the GOP doubled their market share with Hispanics in just two elections, and used it to win the Presidency twice.
Interestingly, the positions of the two parties has been largely reversed in recent years. Both Obama and Clinton are now running fully engaged Hispanic campaigns; both support comprehensive immigration reform and have treated the new immigrant population with respect; the Democrats fielded the first serious Presidential candidate of Hispanic descent; they put their Convention in the Southwest, a nod to this new map; and gave a heavily Hispanic state, Nevada, a privileged place in its nominating process; and all Democratic candidates participated in the historic Univision debate in Miami, the first debate in American history conducted largely in Spanish. At a strategic level Democrats have discovered the power of the Hispanic vote and the new map it brings. For them there is no going back.
The Republicans, however, through their recent racist rhetoric and demonization of Hispanic immigrants, have abandoned the modern strategy Bush brought them. Last year they blocked the bi-partisan Senate immigration reform bill, after blocking it in the House in 2006; they were very late to accepting the Univision debate invitation and skipped most of the major non-partisan Hispanic conferences widely attended by the Democrats; their Hispanic immigrant chairman Mel Martinez resigned this year over his Party's approach to Hispanics; and they all but skipped the NV Caucus. This is a very different picture, and one, as Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson has pointed out, that may cost their Party the Presidency in 2008 and beyond.
In the Democratic Primary Clinton is leading with Hispanics, and deservedly so - Despite powerful labor endorsements for Obama in NV, Sen. Clinton won the Hispanic vote there 68-24%. An incredible performance. She also leads in available polls in this community by a similar margin in the upcoming Feb. 5th states. Hillary's strength with Hispanics comes from two sources. First, there is great fondness for the Clintons in the Hispanic community. In the Clinton Presidency, jobs were much more plentiful and there was little national racist anger towards their community. For Hispanics, things were simply much better when Bill Clinton was in charge. Second, Senator Clinton has made speaking to Hispanics a priority in her campaign from day one: Her campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle is Hispanic; she has the most respected Hispanic strategist in the nation, Sergio Bendixen, running her Hispanic campaign; she has received support from most of the major leaders of the Democratic Hispanic establishment, including Senator Bob Menendez, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros; and despite her waffle on drivers licenses, she has held the line on comprehensive immigration reform. I fully expect her to receive a strong majority of the Hispanic vote on Feb 5th - and if it happens, she clearly deserves it.
Obama has been late to mount a credible campaign in the Hispanic community, but is now fully engaged - One of the great strategic mysteries of this incredible campaign has been the Obama campaign's late engagement in this community. Until a few weeks ago it was hard to even determine if Obama had any Hispanic effort at all. But that was yesterday, and today the Obama campaign - perhaps because of their performance in NV - has become fully engaged. They have ads up on the air; they continue to gain key endorsements (Reps. Gutierrez, Becerra, and Linda Sanchez); Obama and his surrogates are spending a lot of time in the Southwest prior to Feb. 5th; and the campaign now has a very potent weapon in the revered Kennedy name, an endorsement that may cut into the huge advantage HRC has with older Hispanics.
One of the most interesting things to watch for on Feb 5th is what happens with younger Hispanics. As we know, Obama has soared with younger voters, and the Hispanic population is very young. These young Hispanics were a critical driver of the large pro-immigrant rallies and demonstrations in the Spring of 2006. There were many stories about students organizing themselves for these rallies through text messaging campaigns on their cell phones. Will this younger Hispanic vote turnout and go Obama? How will the perception of intolerance the Clintons have shown towards African-Americans cut with this group, a generation much less accepting of intolerance of any kind? Will Obama's new and intense Hispanic campaign in the Hispanic community be able to, in just a week, cut into HRC's big lead?
We will find out next Tuesday.
The McCain factor. Of all the candidates the GOP could have nominated, Senator McCain has the greatest capacity to repudiate the recent racism of the GOP and mount a serious campaign in the Hispanic community this fall. He is from the Southwest and has a long history with Hispanics: He was a powerful advocate for immigration, even attaching his name to a bill with the liberal lion Ted Kennedy, a bill that became the framework for all immigration reform legislation these last three years. If he goes on to win the Republican nomination it will do a great deal to hush the more exteme elements of his party that are demonizing immigrants, and it will show that the Republican Party has come to embrace the assimilation of the undocumented population. His position will allow him to run a fully engaged campaign in the Hispanic community, making it likely that we will see more money spent and more attention given to Hispanics in the 2008 general election than ever before in American history. From this critical vantage point I've always believed McCain to be the strongest GOPer the Democrats could face - we already saw the potential impact of McCain's relationship with Hispanics as it was their votes last night that delivered Florida.
But as this post below reflects, what is also true about John McCain is that in 2007, at a critical moment in the debate over the immigration bill that he was the primary author of, he did not stand and fight - he cut and ran. Spooked by his reception in the GOP primary at that time, McCain simply walked away from the Senate immigration debate in 2007. And his abandonment of the bill at that critical juncture was perhaps the single most important factor in the collapse of the Senate bill last year. So while it is true that McCain has a strong history on this issue, and in this community, the story of his advocacy of immigration reform and on behalf of Hispanics is as much one of cowardice as it is courage.
So, whatever the outcome of this coming campaign, let us all mark 2008 as the year Hispanics officially became a potent force in American politics.