Clinton Courts Hispanics For Crucial Super Tuesday


By: Wall Street Journal

Growing Voter Bloc Could Help Swing Results in Key States
By JIM CARLTON

SAN FRANCISCO — With Super Tuesday looming as a potential make-or-break day for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, strategists for Mrs. Clinton are reinforcing efforts to woo Latinos, who could swing results in key states.

On Feb. 5, voters will choose among Democratic candidates in 23 states, including California, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico. In California, whose 441 delegates to the Democratic convention account for 10% of the total, Latinos make up roughly a quarter of likely Democratic voters.

“Feb. 5 is the firewall, and the Latino vote in California is the most important part of the firewall,” says Sergio Bendixen, a political consultant from Miami who heads Mrs. Clinton’s Latino strategy. “If she can win California, no matter what happens the race is on.”

In recent days, Mrs. Clinton’s campaign has deployed Latino leaders to speak on her behalf in California and the Southwest. It is sending out mailers and starting phone banks to get out the Latino vote.

California is shaping up as a player in a presidential contest for the first time in decades. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last year moved the California primary to February from April.

The timing could help make the moderate Republican governor a presidential power broker. Although he hasn’t endorsed any Republican candidates, he is friendly with Arizona Sen. John McCain and their political views are generally compatible. Mr. Schwarzenegger could come out soon in support of Mr. McCain, says a person familiar with the governor’s thinking.

Latinos will be a bigger factor on the Democratic side than on the Republican because more Latinos are Democrats. Mrs. Clinton began targeting the Latino vote early, locking up endorsements from many of the state’s leading Latino politicians and interest groups.

One boost came in May 2007, when Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers of America and one of the country’s leading Latino activists, endorsed Mrs. Clinton. As of December, polls had the New York senator holding as much as a 4-to-1 lead over Mr. Obama among likely Latino voters, but that was before Mr. Obama won the Iowa caucuses.

Christina Ortega-Libatique, a 28-year-old neighborhood project coordinator from Alhambra, Calif., said she appreciates Mrs. Clinton’s stands on children’s education and health care. “I’m drawn to her for her passion, commitment and that she is a friend of the Latinos,” said Ms. Ortega-Libatique.

California state Sen. Gilbert Cedillo, vice chairman of the California Latino Legislative Caucus, said he was leaning toward Mr. Obama, citing the Illinois senator’s outspokenness on protecting rights of undocumented Latinos in the U.S. Mr. Cedillo had supported New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Latino who announced yesterday he was pulling out of the presidential race.

Mrs. Clinton’s camp, meanwhile, secured endorsements yesterday from two other prominent Latino supporters of Mr. Richardson: Edward Romero, a former U.S. ambassador to Spain, and Henry Cisneros, former secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Mr. Richardson said he doesn’t plan to endorse a candidate.

Many Latino voters are under age 40, the same age group that flocked to Mr. Obama in Iowa and elsewhere. “It’s going to pose an interesting test for Clinton because Obama’s greatest strength is coming from younger voters, yet some of Clinton’s earliest support is from Latinos,” says Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll in San Francisco.

Mr. Obama has also aggressively courted the Latino vote. A year ago, he persuaded Gloria Romero, majority leader of the California Senate, to help coordinate his Latino strategy. Since then, he has appeared at Latino conferences, peppered speeches with Latino references, and even walked the streets of East Los Angeles in Ms. Romero’s district, often speaking of his background as an organizer in low-income communities.

Ms. Romero says Mr. Obama’s stand against the Iraq war early on helped put her in his corner. “To me, the most important issue of this generation is the war in Iraq, and there are a disproportionate number of Latinos dying in Iraq,” Ms. Romero says, referring to Latino soldiers in the U.S. military.

She adds that she believes Mr. Obama will have more empathy for Latino immigrants because his father came from Kenya to study and live in the U.S.

Mrs. Clinton’s staff wasted no time after her comeback New Hampshire primary win to focus on Latinos. One of the events the campaign organized in California on Wednesday to celebrate her victory was a rally in San Francisco’s heavily Latino Mission District, led by the city’s mayor, Gavin Newsom.

“Hillary Clinton, 100%,” said Armando Bravo Martinez, a 42-year-old policy analyst, as Mayor Newsom led an entourage of Mrs. Clinton’s supporters on a walking tour down a barrio street. “She’s for health care, and we desperately need that in a community here where a lot of people work and have no benefits.”

Mrs. Clinton’s staffers are also set to deploy Latino political leaders such as state Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to campaign on her behalf. Mr. Villaraigosa, who has campaigned for Mrs. Clinton in New Hampshire and Iowa, says he plans to make stops in Nevada and California over the next few weeks.

Mr. Nunez says he has put everything else on the ballot — including an initiative that would extend his own term — on the back burner. “The most important thing on the ballot for me is to make sure Democrats vote for Hillary Clinton,” he says.

Write to Jim Carlton at jim.carlton@wsj.com

No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.