Obama To Deploy Army of 500 to Turn Out Latino Voters: Top Latino Strategist Says Florida May Not Be Winnable

Polls may look tight right now in the presidential race, but Cuauhtemoc “Temo” Figueroa, a man who’s had several key positions in the Obama campaign –he was national field director and is now head of Latino outreach- talks confidently about, “paths to victory,” and, “expanding the universe,” of voters.

“We don’t want to go to bed on election night hoping Ohio or Florida are gonna come our way, like the last two election cycles,” says Figueroa, while he dips his fork into a seared tuna salad at a restaurant in San Diego on a recent afternoon. “We want to create different paths to victory and if we don’t win Ohio, or Florida, there’s other ways.”

Figueroa says that that the path to victory will mean, “focusing like a laser beam on four states that have a lot of Latino voters, and that were won by Bush in the last election: Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Florida.”

His comments reflect the oft-repeated claim by the campaign that they can change the electoral map in 2008. The path to victory though, doesn’t necessarily mean expanding the map. Figueroa doesn’t believe that Obama can win Florida but he does think they can win 2 or 3 Western states if they drive up turnout.

The campaign recognizes that there’s a trick to this strategy: a lot of the potential voters they will be counting on are low-propensity voters. In 2004, 40-thousand registered Latinos didn’t bother to participate in Albuquerque alone. Bush won New Mexico by 6-thousand votes.

What are they doing? According to Figueroa, leaving nothing to chance. It’s not by wishing or talking you get people out, he says, it’s by reaching out to them, registering them and, lastly, “wrapping our arms around them and bringing them to the polls.”

Today in Las Vegas, Figueroa, a former union political director from Blythe, California, will kick off a series of “Camps Obama” where veteran union and community organizers will come together to train activists and volunteers recruited from the Latino community. They will total about 500 in those four states, and they will do outreach and voter education as well as get-out-the-vote activities.There’s also an army of over 3-thousand volunteers, that were dispatched over a month ago to 17 states. “We are doing something that has never been done before, and that is concentrating most of our resources on voter registration.”

“It’s not rocket science,” he says. “If we do our job, expand the voting electorate, add more people to the rolls, we educate those and we turn them out, we win.”

But, there’s a trick. The message.

“They didn’t bother to go out and vote for Kerry, or they have never voted before,” Temo says. “Are there certain people they will listen to? Is there a certain issue that’ll motivate them? I don’t have the answer but we hope to find out.”

Polls say Obama is already getting the support of around 60% of Latinos. That may not be enough to win the election. He needs to get closer to the 70%-plus that the Clinton’s –both Bill and Hillary- got. He also needs to make sure the new Latino voter, who trends Democratic but also more independent, finds a reason to come out.

Temo talks openly about doing focus groups, about 15 in the different states, to find out more about what makes those voters tick. They already have a pretty good idea of four broad issues of concern: the economy, the war, immigration, and health care.

But most importantly, the campaign needs to make sure Latinos get as passionate about Obama as they were about Hillary, the candidate most Latinos voted for in the primaries. The campaign received some good news on that front today with the release of a Pew Hispanic Center survey today showing that Latinos who voted for Clinton are moving to Obama in significant numbers.

Figueroa believes Obama’s story as the son of an immigrant and former community organizer will help.

“The only thing you can do is introduce them as well we can to him. To tell our stories about why we support Barack Obama. It’s like, my name is Cuauhtemoc, I come from Blythe Ca, and this is why I support Obama.”

Temo believes that by expanding the electoral map to Western states the Obama campaign leaves little room for McCain to maneuver. “It will be hard for McCain to make up for that loss. His pathway to victory is much tighter than ours.”

Or so they hope.

Pilar Marrero is the political editor and a columnist for La Opinión, and a reporter with Feet in Two Worlds.