Are Dems worried about losing Latinos?

Jeff Winkler | Contributor

On Friday the Democratic National Committee launched its first presidential ad of the 2012 cycle, and it was in Spanish. In preparation for the 2012 presidential election, it seems both Democrats and Republicans have begun reaching out early to a coveted voting bloc: Los Independiente.

Look no further than Barack Obama’s Monday speech at the annual conference of the National Council of La Raza, one of the nation’s largest Hispanic advocacy groups. After being chided a week before by the organization’s leader, the President offered hints of support for immigration reform, but was clear about one thing: “The Democrats and your president are with you, don’t get confused about that.”

That statement is reminiscent of the new DNC ad, which will run in the major cities of battleground states featuring significant Latino populations. And Obama’s self-assured sentiment was echoed by Colorado Democratic Party Chair Rick Palacio, who said during a Friday press conference promoting the new Spanish-language ad: “Hispanics’ priorities are not Republican priorities.”

Apart from the GOP, there is another group that may disagree with the confident statements of Democrats: Latino voters themselves.

“The DNC leadership and their spokespeople can say whatever they want about Latinos but the reality is Latino organizations are not happy with Obama,” Bettina Inclan, a Republican political strategist who blogs extensively on conservative Latino issues, told The Daily Caller. “You have the National Council of La Raza saying that Democrats have to woo Latinos more because they realize the broken promises and the horrible economy they’re facing. … I think these political people have to take their head out of the sand and realize what’s going on and the reality is that, the Hispanic vote, the Latino vote, is up for grabs.”

Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, echoed that point recently in a Politico op-ed. “Obama had his chance. He raised the hopes of Latinos and then didn’t deliver.” The op-ed, however, came with a caveat. “This doesn’t mean that the majority of Latinos are going to vote Republican. But it does mean that many will consider voting for the Republican candidate.”

That chance came in 2008 when Obama received 67 percent of the Latino vote, compared to John McCain’s 31 percent, a margin of almost two-to-one, according to a report released by the Pew Hispanic Center. Although the win for Democrats was slightly above average in their traditional capture of the Latino voting bloc, the ground has shifted in recent years.

In battleground states like Florida, Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico, those shifts struck a particular blow against Republicans. Not only did George W. Bush carry Nevada and Colorado in 2004, but he also gained the largest percentage of the Republican Latino voters since Ronald Reagan, about 35 percent, according to an analysis by the American Political Science Association.

The same survey found that one-third of Latino Republicans are former Democrats, a figure that could change as the GOP begins to actively develop Latino and Hispanic bases.

Last week, the Republican State Leadership Committee launched a $3 million initiative aimed at attracting and promoting conservative Latinos running for office. Not that an unofficial intuitive wasn’t already underway: The number of Hispanic Democratic officeholders has decreased by about 2 percent since 2006, while it’s jumped to 22.5 percent for Hispanic Republicans, according to NPR. Thanks to the 210 midterm elections, state-level elected Hispanic Republicans now outnumber corresponding Democrats by a 5-to-3 margin.

As Republicans make a clear and concerted effort to bring Latino voters into the conservative fold, does the DNC’s new ad suggest concern about losing a voting bloc that swung heavily for Barack Obama in 2008?

“This [ad] is nothing more than a strong signal, just how high of a priority Hispanic voters are to this President and to this campaign,” said DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, defending the ad against suggestions that it was a response to Republicans, during a press conference touting the campaign. “And the Hispanic community needs to know the accomplishments.”

Following the release of the ad and Wasserman Schultz’s presentation, the Republican National Committee blasted out its own bit of Latino politicking.

“This ad is a desperate attempt by Democrats to save face in light of the GOP’s successful messaging within the Hispanic community,” said RNC spokeswoman Victoria Martinez, who continued: “Voters, especially Hispanic voters, know that they cannot afford four more years of President Obama.”

Both parties know this time they can’t afford to put off Latino voters until the September before the election.

“I think one of the biggest mistakes that campaigns do in general is wait until the last hour, the last few months of that election, to pay attention to Latinos,” said Inclan. “I think Republicans don’t want to run into that. … It’s very early, we don’t know who to go and vote for but the Republicans are sending a clear message that they want to connect with Latino voters.”

The launch of the DNC ad comes at the end of a long week of concentrated efforts by conservatives targeting Latino voters. On Thursday, American Crossroads, the conservative super-PAC, released its own Spanish-language spot — a reworking of its English-language”Wake up” ad — and Wednesday saw the launch of the RNC’s radio ads aimed at Hispanic voters in Southwest states.

“As the Hispanic population gets larger and more spread out I think the efforts have to start earlier,” said Mary Moreno, Communications Director of the nonpartisan Voto Latino, which advocates youth voter participation. “It’s not like before where you could do an ad in certain cities, now you really have to have a national campaign. I’m glad they’re realizing that it takes a lot more time and a lot more effort.”

There’s a reason both parties are going after Latino voters early: Latinos, which compose 9 percent of the electorate and is the second fastest growing population in the United States, could prove to be a pivotal swing bloc in the 2012 election and beyond. Both Democrats and Republicans are realizing early on that the voting bloc is considering all its available options.

And how have Republicans been wooing Latinos? Mostly by not being Democrats.

Like the ad’s message, Wasserman Schultz said Democrats were reaching out to the Latino community, reminding them of Obama’s success like the “passage of Healthcare Reform … the exponential increase in financial aid for students, and the middle class tax cuts.” Wasserman Schultz also touted the Administration’s efforts in creating “more than two million jobs in just the last 16 months” and defended Obama immigration policies, saying “immigration reform has been a priority for this administration and to this President.”

While last week’s headlines were dedicated to the nation’s rising jobless rate — from 9.1 to 9.2 percent — Latino unemployment was reported less often. It currently stands at 11.6 percent.

Immigration, too, has been an issue for the President, who expected to see deportations increase under his watch — 10 percent more than Bush’s 2008 numbers and 25 percent more than 2007, according to the Washington Post.

The president, already scraping the trough with his general approval rating, has seen his initial approval rating drop from 73 to 56 percent in April among Hispanics, according to a Gallup poll, and currently sits at 52 percent.

The past week’s Republicans ads focused on the economy, unemployment and the ongoing debt-ceiling fight — the exact same message other more traditionally accepted independent voters are getting. Republicans, however, still face the challenge of selling a Republican candidate.

“It’s not enough just to point to Democrats’ faults, says Javier Manjarres, a conservative political blogger who runs The Shark Tank and founded Hispolitica, a political website for conservative Latinos.

“First of all, [Republicans] have no message for the Hispanic community,” Manjarres told TheDC. “They need to instill in Hispanics and remind them that ‘you are, first-and-foremost, inherently conservative — god, family, prosperity.'”

Inclan, however, disagrees with that strategy. She said a message like that is “almost condescending if you’re telling me ‘Aren’t you stupid? Don’t you see what I believe is what you believe, we believe?'” Inclan said Republicans need to focus on the issue that everyone understands: a floundering economy.

Manjarres and Inclan are both aware of Republicans’ Achilles heel when it comes to enticing Latino and Hispanic voters: immigration reform. It’s an issue that Republicans haven’t traditionally shown sensitivity about, be it (satirical) threats to build moats, (near) death threats, the Governor of Arizona, or state voter ID laws that don’t play well with immigration groups. Even on this thorny issue, both Majarres and Inclan take different approaches.

“Immigration is not a race issue, it is a security issue,” said Manjarres. “They need to articulate and explain why that is.”

Inclan says stick to the economy under Obama’s watch. In fact, she advises, look at everything during the current administration, including immigration.

“I think what’s going to happen more during this election cycle, everyone is going to be talking about the economy. Is immigration a concern? Yeah, but I think one of the biggest problems with immigrations goes back to Obama’s broken promises,” said Inclan. “Immigration is a tough situation but the reality is what he said was going to happen, promising to those Latino voters, nothing happened.”

The disagreements, even among conservative, of how Republicans should move forward may also point to a larger issue for both parites as they try to sway an ethnic voting bloc — Latinos are not all the same.

While the nonpartisan Voto Latino is encouraged that both parties are reaching out to Latino voters early — whatever their message — Moreno said a simple overdub of the same talking points isn’t enough.

“Even though I’m a first generation American, I want to see — I am going to be seeing mainstream TV, English TV. If you want to reach me you have to do it in those medias,” said Moreno. “Just because [the ads are] speaking Spanish doesn’t mean they’re going to reach the Latino community.”

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