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?

UNITY: The Election's New Buzz Word?

Unity was the political headline coming out of Friday’s news cycle, after Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton appeared side by side, in color-coordinated outfits, to put aside their 16-month internecine battle for the Democratic party’s nomination and show (dare we say) a united front at a 3,000 person rally in the aptly named town of Unity, New Hampshire

Press reports gushed over how Obama’s tie matched Clinton’s pantsuit, pondered their lack of a full hug, and pounced on the chance to show discord through a group of Clinton supporters, one of whom stuffed tissues in her ears as Obama spoke.

But the attempts to show solidarity went far past Clinton’s and Obama’s carefully choreographed display in the Granite State.

Preceding the Unity rally on Friday, Clinton spoke to the National Association of Latino Elected Officials in Washington, DC on Thursday and asked some of her most enthusiastic supporters to back Obama in the general election. She told the crowd that if Sen. John McCain won the presidency little would be done to advance the Latino agenda on immigration reform and the country would see, “four more years of the same.”

Clinton was greeted with a standing ovation. NALEO’s president Adolfo Carrión, the Bronx Borough President, referred to her as “nuestra hermana” – our sister. Hispanic supporters of Clinton say that her backing of Obama will be instrumental in winning the group’s support in November. During the primaries, Latinos backed Clinton 2 to 1 over Obama.

Obama also tried to show that unity was a natural next step for Latinos who had supported Clinton. In his speech at the NALEO convention on Saturday, he stressed that Blacks and Latinos have a shared history in the struggle for equal rights. “We marched together in the streets of Chicago to fix our broken immigration system,” he said to the applauding crowd.  “And it’s because of that 20-year record of partnership with your communities that you can trust me when I say that I’ll be your partner in the White House and I will be your champion in the White House. And that’s what you need now more than ever,” Obama continued. “Because for eight long years, Washington hasn’t been working for ordinary Americans. And few have been hit harder than Latinos and African Americans.”

Democrats aren’t the only ones trying to build bridges after messy political battles. Sen. John McCain spoke to the NALEO convention on Saturday, promising to pursue comprehensive immigration reform within his first 100 days in office and to reach out to a community that became alienated from the Republican party after Congress’ failed attempt to pass comprehensive immigration reform last year.

McCain was on of the chief authors of the failed bill. He now must fend off attacks from Obama, that attempt to stoke doubts that McCain and the Republican Party cannot be trusted to follow through on the immigration issue.

Obama, who took the stage after McCain at Saturday’s convention told the crowd: “[McCain] deserves great credit as a champion of comprehensive reform. I admire him for it, I know that he talked about that when he just spoke before you, but what he didn’t mention is that when he was running for his party’s nomination, he walked away from that commitment.  He said that he wouldn’t even support his own legislation if it came up for a vote.  If we are going to solve the challenges we face, we can’t vacillate, we can’t shift depending on our politics. You need a president who will pursue genuine solutions day in and day out in a consistent way, and that is my commitment to you.”

The attacks come at a time when Latino support for McCain is sagging. A recent AP-Yahoo poll showed that Obama’s lead among Latinos was 47 to 22 over McCain, with 26 percent undecided.

McCain’s attempts to regain ground on the immigration issue and rebuild ties with the Hispanic community has not gone unnoticed A headline in the Los Angeles Spanish-language daily La Opinion from early last week put it this way “McCain regresa al centro en inmigración.” – McCain returns to the center on immigration.

Saturday’s speech was just the beginning of an intensified effort by McCain to regain ground with Latino voters.. From July 1st to the 3rd, McCain will visit Colombia and Mexico to stress the ties the United States has with Latin America and focus on the shared security and economic concerns.

Unity – or unidad- it seems, might just rival ‘Change’ as a theme in this year’s election.

 

Latinos Expected to Vote in Record Numbers this November: Could Help Turn Red States Blue

At least 9.2 million Latinos are expected to vote in November’s presidential election according to a report released Thursday by the National Association of Latino Elected Officials. If the estimate is correct, it would represent an increase of more than one million Latino voters compared to the 2004 election.

The number is considered “merely a floor” rather than a ceiling by NALEO, which issued the 64-page report on the potential impact of Latinos in this election cycle. If Latino voter turnout in this year’s primaries is an indicator, the report says the Latino vote could spike even higher in the general election and represent a record percentage of the overall vote in key battleground states. “Changing demographics and rising political participation in the Latino community are redefining the American political landscape,” Senators Ken Salazar and Robert Menendez wrote in the report. “More than any time in the history of our great country, Latino voices and Latino voters will be at the center of the 2008 election, helping to determine the direction our country takes at this critical juncture.”

Primaries Demonstrated Power of Latino Vote
Latinos have already proved they are a formidable voting block, providing the margin of victory for Sen. Hillary Clinton in the Texas and Ohio Democratic primaries and for Sen. John McCain in his decisive win in the Florida GOP primary, according to the NALEO report. The modified primary calendar provided ethnic minorities with more of a say in the presidential nominating process. Seventy-nine percent of the nation’s Latinos live in states that held primaries or caucuses on or before March 4th.

Democrats appeared to benefit the most from the turnout. “Latino Democratic turnout in some major states with large Latino populations doubled, tripled and even quintupled between 2004 and 2008,” the NALEO report found. Latino turnout may be a key to victory for Democrats in the general election, since at least five of the fourteen swing states that the Party hopes to turn blue have sizeable Latino populations.

Florida Remains the State to Watch
Not surprisingly, NALEO points to Florida as the state to watch in the 2008 election. Though Florida’s Latino population has historically trended Republican, an influx of Latinos from South and Central America, as well as Puerto Ricans in Central Florida, have created a sizeable electorate that could vote Democratic. Latinos who are registered Democratic in the state outnumber Latino registered Republicans by 35.3 percent to 33.5 percent. A third of registered of Latinos are unaffiliated and may be up for grabs by both parties. NALEO projects that more than one million Latino voters in Florida will cast their ballot in November’s presidential election.

Latino Turnout Could Be Even Higher
Nationwide more than 17 million Latinos are eligible to vote. One factor that could push the number higher is the swelling ranks of Latinos naturalized as US citizens. The overall number of naturalization applications doubled from 2006 to 2007 to 1.4 million applicants according to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Due to a backlog in processing applications, however, the government agency estimates that will finish processing only 80 percent of the applications filed in 2007 in time for the election. Historically, turnout by naturalized Latinos is higher than those who are native born, according to the Census Bureau.

The immigration debate has also galvanized the Latino electorate, according to the NALEO report. “The last two years have seen the mass mobilization of Latinos in reaction to our nation’s widely publicized immigration debate,” the report says. “The intense current debate has already affected Latino naturalizations, and many Latino applicants for citizenship are motivated in part by the desire to make their voices heard.” However, the report concluded that it is unclear how much of the political reaction to the debate would translate into Latino turnout in the election.

Obama and Muslims: Part II

By Aswini Anburajan

We began blogging about Barack Obama’s troubled relations with Muslims and Arab-Americans yesterday. Today the headline in The New York Times reads “Muslim Voters Detect a Snub From Obama.” The article, which has an interview with Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim elected to Congress, says the campaign has repeatedly snubbed the Muslim community’s efforts to reach out to the campaign. The Obama campaign counters that Sen. Obama has spoken favorably about Muslims and recorded a radio ad for Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN), the second Muslim elected to Congress. In an interview with ’60 Minutes,’ Mr. Obama said the rumors (that he is a Muslim) were offensive to American Muslims because they played into “fearmongering.” But on a new section of his Web site, he classifies the claim as a “smear.” “A lot of us are waiting for him to say that there’s nothing wrong with being a Muslim, by the way,” Rep. Ellison said.

The criticism comes as the Obama campaign has ramped up its push to court Christians and Evangelicals, to the consternation of other religious groups. The Wall Street Journal quotes Tony Kutayli, a spokesman for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and himself a Christian: “There have been some concerns that courting Christians could alienate voters from other faiths, like Jews and Muslims. And the fact that Obama’s new anti-smear website has taken such pains to discredit the allegation that he is a Muslim, and therefore somehow linked to radical Islamism, could offend Muslim voters. If he were a Muslim, so what? That insinuates that if he were a Muslim, he’s automatically a jihadist. That’s incredibly insulting to people of the Muslim faith and Arabs who are Christian.”

Meanwhile a new site launched by Obama’s campaign, Fightthesmears.com, has drawn criticism from Salon.com. Rather than fighting smears, Salon says the new page plays into fears and gives legitimacy to a rumor that should be in the category of too false, too outlandish and too impolite to repeat.

Salon continues, “Late last week Barack Obama’s campaign launched Fight the Smears, a Web site that aims to put a lid on the chain e-mail-based rumors that have menaced the Senator’s presidential bid since its inception. By now you’re probably familiar with the smears in question: Obama is secretly a Muslim, he refuses to pledge allegiance to the flag, he was sworn in to the U.S. Senate on a Quran, and his terrorist-fist-jabbbing wife has taken to calling people ‘whitey.’ As political rumors go, these are of a piece with John McCain’s illegitimate black baby: Too ugly for polite company, the stories thrive on e-mail and talk-radio hearsay, and though they’re trivial to debunk (the truth is just a Web search away), the lies seem possessed of uncanny sticking power. Polls show belief in the Obama-is-a-Muslim rumor now hovers at around 10 to 13 percent, up from single digits last December.”

Lifting the veil on Obama's relations with Arab-Americans

The sharp outcry last week after two Muslim women wearing headscarves were told they couldn’t appear behind Senator Barack Obama at a campaign rally in Detroit, has raised questions about the credibility and motivations of Obama’s post-racial, multi-ethnic message and appeal.

On June 18th two Muslim women separately reported that they were told they could not appear on stage behind Obama because they had headscarves on. Obama later called the women to personally apologize, and his campaign released a statement saying that the actions by the Obama volunteers who barred the women was unacceptable and went against the spirit of his campaign.

The incident was picked up by the national press, some calling the move hypocrisy, while others pointed out that the campaign has had to tread a tightrope between combating rumors and perceptions that Obama is a Muslim and at the same time not appearing to denigrate Muslims or Islam with his disavowals.

The reaction in the Arab press has been louder, harsher and more impassioned. A scathing column by Ray Hanania posted on the Arab Writers Group went so far as to allege a tacit agreement between the press and the Obama campaign to report the incident without a sense of outrage. Hanania called the incident an act of “racism.” He claimed that if the same thing had happened at a McCain event there would have been a loud outcry in the media.

To underscore that sentiment a political cartoon released to Arab newspapers by Hanania and David Kish shows Obama telling a crowd that there are many differences between him and Sen. John McCain. The following panel shows a volunteer telling two women in headscarves that they can’t be seen. The cartoon ends with a thought bubble over Obama’s head that reads: “Then again maybe not so many.”

While reporting on the incident has focused on the motivations and tactics of the campaign, it has neglected to delve into whether Obama’s candidacy may be raising the level of interest and participation in the political process by Muslims and Arab-Americans.

While there’s no concrete evidence to suggest that Obama’s candidacy has galvanized Arab or Muslim voters, there are attempts within the community to increase political participation. The Arab American Institute has launched “Our Voice. Our Vote. Yalla Vote ’08.” to bring issues related to the Arab-American community to the forefront in 2008.

“Like all Americans, we’re concerned about the economy and education, about health care and home prices. But there are a host of other issues that are impacting our community more deeply and more personally than any others: issues like civil liberties, immigration, and our country’s foreign policies,” Dr. James Zogby, of the Arab American Institute said in a statement.

The group is planning to put organizers on the ground in key states, and plans to monitor political races on all levels to help advance an agenda that reflects Arab-American concerns.

It’s easy to see how Muslim voters would be attracted to a candidate with family members who are Muslim, whose father comes from Kenya, and who spent his early years in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation. But is the appeal of Obama’s personal story outweighed by his campaign’s efforts to downplay his Muslim roots? For Arab and Muslim voters incidents like the one in Detroit last week could end up linking Obama to what some in the Muslim community allege is a long-standing bias by American politicians and the mainstream media against Muslims and Arabs in this country.

Michigan will be a battleground in 2008, and has one of the largest Arab and Muslim populations in the country. In a tight election the Arab vote could be a significant factor.