Opinion: Obama and the Latino vote


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What was that about a black-brown divide? With presumptive Latino favorite Hillary Clinton out of the running, Barack Obama has the lead in Latino votes against John McCain. Times Staff Writer Peter Wallsten has the numbers:

A new Gallup Poll summary of surveys taken in May shows Obama winning 62% of Latino registered voters nationwide, compared with just 29% for McCain.... The Gallup survey of Latinos found that Obama, despite his string of losses to Clinton, performed just as well as Clinton in a theoretical matchup against McCain.


For much of the campaign, Obama seemed incapable of taking the bloc from Clinton, or even McCain. Clinton won Nevada, California, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and more recently, Puerto Rico; she won prominent Latino endorsements, had Patty Solis Doyle at her side (for a time), and ate at King Taco with supporter Antonio Villaraigosa. And husband Bill put prominent Latinos in his cabinet (including current Obama supporter Bill Richardson, himself a historic presidential candidate).

McCain, meanwhile, hails from a southwestern state and launched comprehensive immigration reform (even if he’s backed away). Since Cinco de Mayo, and even when playing for his base against less Latino-friendly Republican rivals, McCain has aggressively courted the Latino vote. And immigration reform is one area in which McCain doesn’t have to worry about a negative Bush effect — the president backed immigration reform and won a good chunk of Latino voters in 2000 and 2004....

Even the editorial board once worried that Latinos wouldn’t vote Obama:

[D]espite Obama’s surging national popularity and rhetorical identification with Latino political strength, many Latinos continue to harbor doubts about his candidacy. As this race enters its final stretch, Latinos owe Obama a second look.

But Obama had some appeal: he won Latinos in Virginia; he supported drivers licenses for illegal immigrants; he said those who blame immigrants for job losses were scapegoating (Clinton wouldn’t go far). And there was his well-pronounced Spanish in an ad in Puerto Rico.

So the decisive lead Gallup shows speaks well of Obama’s chances, given that Latino voters could make the difference in big swing states like Florida. But how important is the bloc? It’s said Latinos propelled Bush to victory, and could play a bigger role in 2008 [pdf], since more Latinos are registering to vote. But some have argued that their numbers are still too small to play a decisive role.


*Photo of Obama and Richardson courtesy Associated Press.