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Obama Looks to Power of Latino Vote

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, pictured here at the LULAC convention in Washington, D.C., is looking to Latino voters to boost his election prospects. (Linda Davidson / The Washington Post).

By Dan Balz
Barack Obama waited until the very end of his speech to the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Tuesday to get to the transactional part of his message. It was a challenge to the Latino community to fulfill its potential as a force in American politics.

"During the immigration marches back in 2006," he began, "we had a saying: 'Today we march. Tomorrow we vote.' Well, that was the time to march. And now comes the time to vote."

Obama has two challenges in the race against John McCain. The first is to win over Latino voters in a way he was not able to do running in the primaries against Hillary Clinton. The second is to awaken the sleeping giant that is the unfulfilled potential of the Latino vote. If he can do both of those things, his path to the White House will be considerably easier. The first may be easier to accomplish than the second.

Across all the primaries, Obama lost the Hispanic vote to Clinton by 61 percent to 35 percent, but he appears to have made significant progress in converting Hispanic support for Clinton to himself now that she is out of the race. In the most recent Gallup poll, he leads McCain among Hispanics by 2-1--62 percent to 28 percent. That puts him slightly above the support John Kerry received in 2004 and almost at the level Al Gore got in 2000.

Democratic Hispanic leaders have quickly swung behind Obama, regardless of where they stood during the primaries. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson backed Obama over Clinton before the primaries ended. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who was tireless in his support for Clinton during the primaries, took a red eye to Washington Monday night to deliver the introduction for Obama at LULAC. Former HUD secretary Henry Cisneros, who first backed New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and later shifted to Clinton, now enthusiastically supports Obama.

President Bush was very successful in cutting into the Democrats' margins among Hispanics in his two elections. In McCain, Obama faces one of the few Republicans who might be able to come close to Bush in appealing to the Latino community, and if he is able to do that, he can keep the general election close. Right now, McCain is falling short.

As Gallup's Jeffrey M. Jones put it in his analysis last week, "While George W. Bush made a strong push for the Hispanic vote in the 2000 and 2004 elections, McCain faces an uphill climb to attract Hispanics' support, given their consistent and solid support for Obama in recent months."

What can make the real difference is Obama's ability to generate considerably larger turnout among Latino voters. Hispanic voters have the lowest voter registration rates of any racial constituency other than Asians. According to the Census Bureau, just 58 percent of eligible Hispanics were registered to vote in 2004, compared to 75 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 69 percent of blacks.

Once registered, Hispanics turned out in significant numbers, but still lagged behind non-Hispanic whites, blacks and Asians. In 2004, 82 percent of registered Hispanics actually voted, compared with 89 percent of non-Hispanic whites, 87 percent of blacks and 85 percent of Asians.

So there is an enormous potential payoff to Obama and the Democrats if they can successfully register a significant share of the millions of eligible unregistered Latinos. Obama cited the case of New Mexico to drive home his point to the LULAC audience. In 2004, Kerry lost New Mexico by 6,000 votes, but 40,000 registered Hispanics did not turn out to vote. The 6,000-vote margin, he said, represented a small fraction of the number of Hispanics in New Mexico who are not even registered.

"While I know how powerful a community you are, I also know how powerful you could be on November 4th if you translate your numbers into votes," Obama said.

California already has witnessed the seismic shock of a surge of Latino voting. After then-governor Pete Wilson's 1994 reelection campaign, in which he made the anti-illegal-immigration ballot initiative as a political rallying cry (an initiative that then-governor George W. Bush did not support), Latino participation in California elections increased dramatically.

That has helped make California so safely Democratic in presidential elections that Obama boasted to LULAC that Democrats would "stomp" the Republicans there in November.

In the same way Obama's advisers are focused on increasing African American registration in states like Georgia and North Carolina, his campaign will be looking to do the same among Latinos in places like New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada. If they are successful, Obama will have the clear advantage in all three states -- none of which went for Kerry four years ago.

But as Obama noted, the promise of Latino political power has long gone unfulfilled. Their numbers continue to rise in the population, but they have yet to fully flex their muscles. The immigration marches in 2006 drew millions into the streets -- many of the demonstrators were illegal immigrants who cannot vote, but many were no doubt eligible but unregistered.

The challenge Obama outlined to LULAC was aimed not just at his own campaign, but at the Latino community itself. Whatever the partisan implications, fulfilling the promise of full political participation remains an unmet goal for the fastest rising segment of the population.

By Web Politics Editor  |  July 9, 2008; 3:43 PM ET
Categories:  Dan Balz's Take  
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Does the American people need to escalate the 315 million plus population, the census estimates we have now? To a new total of 435 million because the new president wants to add a new blanket AMNESTY?

Right now the dire consequences of overpopulation is irrefutable, by just looking at the congestion in our cities, along with the ever growing pollution. We cannot sustain supporting even larger numbers of people, or ignoring the predatory businesses that callously assume that legal citizens will support their cheap labor?

We, the American welcome more legal immigrants, than any other country in the world, whatever their national origin. Yet the 'Special interest lobby, through certain corrupted politicians expect us to import poverty, so that the profits of rogue companies is not suspended.

The Diversity Alliance for Sustainable America have stated in it's article that if the U.S. grants amnesty and gives citizenship to 12 to 30 million illegal migrants, as Senators Obama and McCain propose. All those naturalized citizens could possibly add 120 million U.S. and foreign-born relatives to the U.S., in the next 20 years whom all would CONSUME MAJOR ENERGY. Americans cannot afford to support illegal aliens here with our tax dollars, or the millions who will jump the fence in the future. Only THE FEDERAL SAVE ACT (H.R.4088) offers any chance of halting this overpopulation quagmire It's enactment will give ICE and the police more enforcement powers.

Join NUMBERSUSA for free and become part of a solution and not lies.

Posted by: Brittanicus | July 12, 2008 7:44 PM | Report abuse

Americans seem to be a little slow in mentality when it comes to donating for the right cause. The Clintons have money, You the people don't. The Clintons have Black Water to protect them. The Clintons, have a home and fuel too boast of, but, You the people don't. Another War in the Horizon, the Clintons nor any one of importance will grieve the loss off a child for oil. Money and greed. Sacrifice for America, at home, not where no one cares, and in a war you will never win. You all make the world feel like puking. Thank God you have the right to protect yourselves . The friends never mentioned in many years, your true united friends, We the people of Canada, Come on home, but only if you are a true American, or a true Canadian. Little Havana, not welcomed. May your God Bless, You The people. True Canadians and Americans are welcome.

Posted by: justadad55+ | July 11, 2008 9:16 AM | Report abuse


Posted by: Josue | July 10, 2008 7:29 AM | Report abuse

"Barack Obama was in friendly territory today in front of a crowd of Latino activists and he told them what they wanted to hear - that he would fight for COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM and promised to get it done in his first term in office.

John McCain had a few hours earlier - that this election is about "all the people who are paying a price because of our broken immigration system; all the communities that are taking immigration enforcement into their own hands; and all the neighborhoods that are seeing rising tensions as citizens are pit against new immigrants. They need us to put an end to the petty partisanship that passes for politics in Washington and enact COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM once and for all."

Well, there you go. Thanks to you, White Christian voters (who represent the largest voting bloc). We now have two candidates trying to out-amnestize each other, trying to compete with each other about who's gonna give more benefits, more freebies to the illegal aliens without enforcement first. At least, Obama has been honest and truthful about his stance on illegal immigration from day one. McCain has been flip-flopping on the issue from day one. But you Christian voters didn't care. This country is headed into a third-world hellhole in a handbasket.

Posted by: Ramon | July 10, 2008 4:47 AM | Report abuse

Did obama tell the latinos they should vote for latinos even if it means voting blacks out and latinos in...
Will obama keep his promise of comprehensive immigration reform, which blacks don't want, or stab the latinos in the back...
can latinos trust far as I am concerned, I don't...

Posted by: Dwight | July 9, 2008 7:44 PM | Report abuse

Barack Obama just committed treason along with 68 other Senators when they voted for the Revised FISA Bill that unconstitutionally does away with the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution.

McCain did not vote, but he usually votes with Bush/cheney over 95% of the time, so he is not just a traitor, he is an enabling traitor.

Don't vote for either two of these traitors. They are both the same.

The real contest now is between Nader and Barr.

Posted by: KEVIN SCHMIDT | July 9, 2008 7:38 PM | Report abuse

Obama Tells Audience, "You Need to Make Sure that Your Child Can Speak Spanish"

Speaking in Powder Springs, Ga., the Illinois Senator said that the nation's chief priority should not be for immigrants to learn English, but for American children to learn Spanish.

Posted by: LostOurVotes | July 9, 2008 6:03 PM | Report abuse

I've always maintained a caution about Obama even while supporting him. Just wasn't sure he could handle the brutalities of politics at the presidential level. But he's showing an ability and skillfulness to withstand and deliver. I'm impressed, very impressed. Impressed enough to do some campaigning for him. My confidence in him is really elevating. He truly is what America needs as a president as this point in its history. It really is so.

Posted by: Naomi | July 9, 2008 6:02 PM | Report abuse

I hope Obama takes Antonio Villaraigosa as his running mate.

That would get him the hell out of LA, where he's been nothing more than a grandstanding ZERO.

Posted by: Chuckamok | July 9, 2008 6:02 PM | Report abuse

so basically you are voting as if this is a high school popularity contest. and you wonder why the rest of the world laughs at us.

i wish people in this country weren't so darn ignorant. "what does change mean?" go to his website and read a policy! compare policies!

do you want a decrepit, warmongering fool to take us into world war III?

mccain doesn't even know the difference between sunnis, shias, iran, iraq and al qaeda. a president need to know that. and things a LOT more complicated.

a president should tell all iranians that we want to KILL them. that is DUMB.

wake up white people!

Posted by: JR, Boston | July 9, 2008 5:37 PM | Report abuse

It's hard for me to support Obama because, frankly, I don't like him. I feel that he is an elitist, and he doesn't give me reasons to trust him. I also feel that Obama takes things for granted.

Posted by: Maria | July 9, 2008 5:31 PM | Report abuse

Now, here's some things Balz doesn't know (Part 1 of a series).

1. Some of the marches BHO refers to were organized by those linked to the MexicanGovernment:

That includes the march that BHO attended. One of the organizers of that is even an official with a Mexican political party.

There's the strong possibility that the MexicanGovernment used proxies to get their citizens to take to our streets in order to have an influence on our internal politics.

And, Barack Obama helped.

Posted by: LonewackoDotCom | July 9, 2008 5:05 PM | Report abuse

That Obama is exciting latino voters while maintaining a centrist immigration policy - "pay a fine, learn English, and go to the back of the line" - speaks to his talent as a politician.

Gore and Kerry weren't exactly the most charismatic guys, and they didn't have the campaign juggernaut or the financial advantage that Obama does, so Obama is probably going to get 65-70% of the latino vote.

10,000 volunteers in Texas? The latin turnout there is going to be historic.

If Obama gives a popular latino (preferably someone unlike Cisneros) from Texas or Florida HUD, and continues to work those areas politically, then those states will turn dramatically blue, for a long time to come.

Posted by: JR, Boston | July 9, 2008 5:00 PM | Report abuse

presidential trivia...

which president won a pulitzer prize for history?

click below for other clues and the answer...

Posted by: tomabrahams | July 9, 2008 4:50 PM | Report abuse

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