McCain and Obama's Five Percent Rule

Both of the major parties’ presumptive Presidential nominees are salivating over the Latino vote, and with good reason. Four years ago, George Bush won New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, and Florida by less than 5 percent of the vote. Each of these states has a vast Latino population—case in point: one in three New Mexico voters is Latino.

In other words, Latino voters matter like never before in this year’s tight Presidential race.

As analysts point to growing numbers of Latino voters in crucial Southern and Western states, Latinos are the new soccer moms and Nascar dads (in 2008 political parlance) and the Presidential campaigns are answering this clarion call loud and clear with multimillion-dollar ad buys (both Obama and Clinton spent at least $4 million on Spanish-language campaign ads before the June 1 primary – an astronomical 400 percent increase over what Bush and Gore spent on Spanish-language media in the 2000 race) and heartfelt Spanish-language television appeals.

It appears the Latino voter is poised to join this election’s mythic white working class voter in the campaign’s hall of fame.

Sadly, despite all the candidates’ duels for the corazones y almas (hearts and souls) of Latino voters, both McCain and Obama assiduously duck real discussions of immigration policy as they jab at each other on safer campaign issues.

Truth be told, McCain and Obama actually disagree on immigration– though you wouldn’t know this from the mainstream media’s coverage of the campaign, which tends to put both candidates in the same corner because they supported last year’s immigration reform proposals.

Newsflash: candidates’ platforms change.

As is often the case on immigration policy, some of the best analysis I’ve seen on how the candidates substantively differ from each other comes from a community with a stake in looking at the details.

Maribel Hastings from Los Angeles’s Spanish-language La Opinión (sister paper of New York’s own El Diario, and a Feet in 2 Worlds partner) did a stellar and detailed comparison last week of the nominees’ stances on a wide variety of immigration policies. Check out the whole (translated) article, it’s well worth the read.

At various points in their political careers, both McCain and Obama have supported large-scale legislative proposals to allow undocumented immigrants to apply for legal status. McCain initially co-sponsored (with Senator Ted Kennedy) a couple of such proposals, the most recent of which failed spectacularly in the Senate last year. Obama also supported the bill, and has promised to revisit the issue of immigration reform in the first 100 days of his campaign.

Fast forward to June 2008, when Hastings’s article outlines real differences between the candidates on key immigration reform proposals. They include the DREAM Act, which would allow undocumented high school students who’ve been in the US for at least 5 years and meet a laundry list of other requirements to apply for legal status (Obama says yea, McCain says nea); and issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented state residents (McCain says nea, Obama says yea).

The upcoming long election season promises to see more twists and turns on immigration (and many more pleas en espanol), so stay tuned.