Wooing Latinos from South of the Border

John McCain will meet with President Felipe Calderon of Mexico today and hot button issues like immigration and trade will top the agenda.

McCain has dismissed suggestions that his three-day trip to Colombia and Mexico are a way to woo Latinos.

However, his campaign has aggressively sought these voters, releasing ads on both radio and television that talk of support for free trade agreements and job creation in Mexico and the United States.

But the political notes that play well in Mexico City may ring sour in Michigan, and that raises the political question of the day.

Will reaching out to minority voting groups be enough to tip the scales in favor of one candidate over another, especially in battleground states? If the answer is yes, it could signal a seismic shift in electoral politics.

Over the course of the primaries much attention was given to white, working class voters. These are the voters who bore the brunt of job losses from NAFTA, who fear an influx of immigrants because they could lower wages, and who strayed from the Democratic Party as it embraced social service programs and policies targeted towards minorities that left many Whites feeling that the party had forgotten their concerns. Re-labeled Reagan Democrats, they were the key to victory for Republicans and the one Democrat, Bill Clinton, who successful courted them.

When Sen. Barack Obama couldn’t win this group during the Democratic primaries, many analysts questioned his ability to forge a winning coalition in November. But Obama had a new demographic formula: young voters, African Americans voting in record numbers and affluent, liberal Whites.

As the first African American to be a presumptive party nominee, Obama faces greater scrutiny about his ability to win over Whites, and is spending time and resources in cultivating favor with this group. McCain, on the other hand, doesn’t have to worry about that kind of political symbolism.

It frees him to conduct one of the most novel exercises in this already unique campaign cycle – campaigning for American votes outside of America. It’s a recognition that despite resistance in some parts of the American electorate, the dam has burst on globalization and the effects of this flood has blurred borders, mixed identities and is making the U.S. more politically accountable to her immediate neighbors than ever before.

Aligning with Latinos on trade and immigration, McCain may be the first candidate, if he’s successful, to prioritize the concerns of a minority group over the wishes and priorities of a large part of the country’s majority demographic group. His move reflects the shift occurring in the U.S. population, but campaigning in this way also invests power in Latino voters and provides them the platform to push their issue agenda forward, and by extension the agendas of the countries many in this group are tied to.

As the much publicized NALEO report showed, Latinos could be the swing block in the swing states. They have already provided McCain with one victory – in Florida. Winning the Sunshine state with the Latino vote allowed him to clinch the Republican nomination. Now will it allow him to clinch the presidency?

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