With her African-American support permanently eroded, Hillary Clinton is looking to white women over 40 and Latinos to help her carry the Super Tuesday primaries in California and other key states. With Latino voters credited for Clinton’s Nevada victory, and polls showing Latinos favoring her over Obama in California by a 59-19 margin, the Clinton camp has reason to be encouraged. But there is more to the Latino voter turnout story than the traditional media suggests. Specifically, much of the gains in Latino turnout have come from union-backed GOTV (get out the vote) operations that will not be operating for Clinton on February 5. In addition, the Kennedy family has a far greater hold on the loyalties of old-guard Latinos, and a strategic use of Obama backer Ted Kennedy could greatly shift the upcoming vote. If turnout by young, pro-Obama Latinos parallels South Carolina’s youth vote and doubles or triples over past years, Clinton’s projected large Latino majorities in California, New York City, Arizona and Colorado could be erased.
In 1968, Robert F. Kennedy appeared to be on his way to the Democratic presidential nomination when he won the California presidential primary by securing huge margins from the state’s Latino voters. Hillary Clinton is hoping for a repeat of this experience in California, Arizona, Colorado, New York City and New Mexico on February 5 -- but likely lacks the turnout apparatus to make this a reality.
The February 5 elections are all about voter turnout. And the chief reason that Latino voting has risen dramatically in California, and is steadily rising in Arizona and Colorado, is due to the success of union-supported voter outreach campaigns.
Union outreach efforts made Latinos 20% of California’s Democratic primary electorate, and an increasingly important electoral force. But these systematic get out the vote efforts will not be operating on February 5, which could reduce the Latino share of overall voter turnout.
California appears to be the only state where Clinton has a meaningful organizational advantage in Latino turnout capacity. This is attributable to the work of Ace Smith, who led Villaraigosa’s campaign in the 2005 Los Angeles mayor’s race and who has spent months assembling Clinton’s statewide get out the vote operation.
Given Smith’s access to Villaraigosa’s voter lists, and the Mayor’s strong backing of Clinton, the prospect still exists for Clinton to win large Latino pluralities in Los Angeles. But three factors have emerged that could alter this scenario.
First, Maria Elena Durazo, the head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, is now a national co-chair of the Obama campaign. LACFL’s vaunted get out the vote operation will not be operating for any candidate, but Durazo has a strong base in the city’s Latino community. State Senator Gil Cedillo, a former SEIU leader, is also backing Obama, which means that the leading forces in the city’s labor-Latino coalition are working to counter the influence of Villaraigosa and Smith’s pro-Clinton operation.
Second, young Latino voters are likely to overwhelmingly back Obama. This group is not counted in polls of “likely voters,” because those under 30 have traditionally not voted in primaries. In fact, in the 2004 election “unmarried Latinas” represented the lowest voter turnout percentage of any demographic group.
But young voters have been coming out in record numbers for Obama this primary season, and turnout among young South Carolina voters tripled. Similar results in Los Angeles would offset Clinton’s organizational advantages among the city’s older Latinos.
Third, Ted and Caroline Kennedy’s endorsement of Obama could have its greatest nationwide impact among California’s Latino voters. “Viva Kennedy” clubs sprouted up in Latino communities across California during Robert Kennedy’s 1968 campaign, and many of the old-guard Latinos who are backing Clinton because they do not know Barack Obama hold a special place in their hearts for the Kennedy’s. Some likely still have pictures of JFK and/or RFK in their homes, right next to the Virgin Mary.
Ted Kennedy can best help Obama by visiting East Los Angeles and the Central Valley. By reviving the spirit of the “Viva Kennedy” campaign, Kennedy can shift older voters to Obama, deeply cutting into Clinton’s current base.
While labor and progressive activists can help stem Clinton’s Los Angeles Latino support, a Kennedy visit seems critical to compensate for Clinton’s superior organization in Fresno and other Central Valley communities. Clinton’s best hope is to sweep the Central Valley congressional districts, which makes a real difference in the delegate race.
Clinton’s early investment in Ace Smith will pay dividends on February 5, as he will maximize her Latino vote. But based on the above factors, Clinton’s victory margin among Latinos should be far less than polls currently project.
Colorado and Arizona:
Both states saw a sharp rise in Latino voting in 2006. This was attributable to the Latino backlash against the Republican defeat of comprehensive immigration reform, and increased labor-backed voter outreach efforts.
In Arizona, Governor Janet Napolitano is actively campaigning for Obama, and the Phoenix-based leadership of New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson’s former presidential campaign has endorsed the Illinois Senator. Clinton does not have a strong Latino voter outreach campaign in the state, which should put the state’s Latino electorate up for grabs.
Colorado’s “mi familia vota” outreach operation is not backing any candidate in Colorado, which could reduce Latino turnout in the state's caucus. If young Latinos follow the pro-Obama voting patterns of under 30 voters in Iowa and South Carolina, this would limit Clinton’s current edge in the state.
Organized labor has less influence here, which makes it harder for Obama to offset Clinton’s superior name recognition. Hillary Clinton will likely do well here, but the state is too small to make much of an impact.
New York City:
Recent polls show Clinton far ahead in New York City, which represents a major challenge to Obama given the large number of delegates at stake. This is another place where Ted Kennedy needs to visit, and Caroline, who lives in the city, can join him.
The Latino vote here is not monolithic, and primarily includes Dominican, Colombian, Cuban, Puerto Rican (most of whom are native-born), and Mexican immigrants. Latinos could make up as much as 33% of the NYC primary vote.
New York City represents an incredible opportunity for Obama to prove the pollsters wrong. Here’s why.
First, the Latino electorate is younger, and those under 30 are likely to favor Obama by large margins.
Second, as recently reported in my latino news
, immigrant rights advocates in the New York City area are increasingly troubled with Clinton’s willingness to deny legal process to immigrants with a criminal background.
Clinton told an audience in South Carolina that "anybody who committed a crime in this country or in the country they came from has to be deported immediately, with no legal process. They are immediately gone." She told a crowd in North Bergen, N.J., that such criminals "absolutely" need to be deported, insisting that there be “no questions asked."
When coupled with Clinton’s flip-flopping on immigrant drivers’ licenses—she now opposes their issuance whereas Obama supports licenses--- the New York Senator’s hard-nosed approach to immigration could alienate Latino voters. It is up to the Obama campaign to ensure that enough Latino voters learn about the candidate’s positions before February 5.
One place where Latino voters are unlikely to hear negative information about Hillary is on Univision. The Spanish-language media giant has played a positive role in promoting immigration reform, citizenship applications and voter registration, but its new ownership has strongly slanted coverage
toward Hillary Clinton. The network has already described Obama as “naïve” for saying he would meet with leaders of Cuba and Venezuela “without preconditions.”
The past year has seen the immigrants’ rights movement mobilize as never before to increase citizenship applications by 1.4 million, and to boost Latino voter registration to record levels. Focusing on presidential primaries was not part of this agenda. With the leading Latino voter turnout structures bypassing February 5, and with a potentially sharp increase in pro-Obama young Latino voters, the strong Latino majority that Clinton is counting upon for February 5 may not materialize.