Friday, July 27, 2007

Latino leaders lean left for ... Hillary?

On the subject of the Presidential candidates and where Latinos fall into all of this, this is a really good story, analysis. -Angela

Latino leaders lean left for ... Hillary?
By: Gebe Martinez

July 26, 2007 05:35 AM EST /from

As New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson began the first-ever
presidential campaign by a Hispanic, Latino leaders faced a

Is it acceptable, they wondered -- especially at a time
when Latinos are feeling attacked on the civil rights
front -- to skip this historic moment and endorse a
candidate besides Richardson for the Democratic nomination?

The answer came swiftly when New York Sen. Hillary Rodham
Clinton announced early on that she had won the highly
coveted endorsement of Raul Yzaguirre, the former president
of the National Council of La Raza, a long-standing Latino
advocacy group.

She also got the backing of the controversial but
influential mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, New
Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez and dozens more.

While the value of endorsements by other politicians is
often questioned -- especially in this presidential
election season, in which big-name backers of Democrats and
Republicans have been accused of drug trafficking, using
prostitutes or being unfaithful in marriage -- they still
matter among the growing, Democratic-leaning Hispanic

And so far, Clinton is leading the fierce race for Latino
endorsements. Well-known and well-financed at the start of
her campaign, she aggressively sought Hispanic support
before Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois surged in the polls
and before Richardson's bid became sure-footed.

"One (endorsement request) that was very difficult to turn
down was from my very good friend, Bill Richardson,"
acknowledged Yzaguirre, a co-chairman of Clinton's
campaign. "(Clinton) made it clear she wants to reach the
Latino vote," he said. Former President Bill Clinton was
intellectually tuned in to the Latino electorate,
but "Hillary gets it emotionally and intellectually."

And Latinos want to be wanted. After being largely ignored
in the presidential campaigns of Al Gore and John F. Kerry,
Latinos are getting far more attention than an "En Espanol"
tab on candidates' websites.

The Clinton campaign has drawn notice for its multifaceted
strategy, which includes bringing on the first Hispanic
woman to manage a major presidential campaign, the hiring
of a Latino pollster and community networking in Florida
and Southwestern states where Latinos could be the swing
vote in the general election.

Using the 21-member Congressional Hispanic Caucus as a
yardstick, Clinton has seven members backing her, while
Richardson, the son of an American father and a Mexican
mother, has three.

Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards has two
endorsements from Latino lawmakers, and Obama and Sen.
Chris Dodd of Connecticut each have one.

In a Gallup/USA Today poll conducted last month, 59 percent
of Hispanic voters surveyed said they supported Clinton
over Obama, Richardson and then Edwards, with the rest of
the field barely registering.

"The (Clinton) campaign clearly is thinking about the
Hispanic vote, and it didn't happen by accident," said
Roberto Suro, director of the Pew Hispanic Center. "It's a
measure of the fact that the campaign has determined that
they need to have some approaches to this population."

But as Richardson inches into the top tier of candidates,
he remains a formidable competitor for the Latino vote. His
list of supporters highlights community activists in key
states, even beyond his home region.

The governor probably will not win the Democratic
nomination, but he will do well enough "to hold serve with
Latino voters," predicted Antonio Gonzalez, president of
the William C. Velasquez Institute, which studies Latino
voter and economic trends.

"If Richardson is perceived as a viable candidate and he
has enough money to get the message out, that's going to
cancel out the Latino endorsements of Hillary," he

First, however, Richardson must become better known by
Latinos who do not know his ethnic or political background,
which includes serving as a congressman for 14 years, then
as U.N. ambassador and energy secretary for President

Latino endorsements are not just an introduction of the
candidate to voters. They carry an extra layer of trust
because the leaders and their constituents often have
similar cultural and economic origins.

"They can be useful when the voters are relatively
inexperienced, like first-time voters who maybe are not
that crystallized on their self-interests," Gonzalez said.
That is why, despite personal issues, Villaraigosa's
support for Clinton remains significant.

At the same time, Latinos want to be taken seriously, not
just to have a seat at the power table but also to bring
the campaigns into their neighborhoods, where issues such
as immigration, health care and education are key.

One reason little was spent on the Latino vote by recent
presidential campaigns is that the Hispanic population is
concentrated in California, New York, Texas and other
states that were not major battlegrounds. They will be in
play next year.

And in the wake of the testy immigration debate, civil
rights activists are stepping up citizenship and voter
registration drives even in nontraditional Hispanic states
where the Latino population has shot up. The 2008 Latino
vote is expected to total 9.5 million, an increase of 1.9
million over 2004.

Candidates and their supporters are courting Latinos in
serious and not-so-serious ways.

Dodd speaks Spanish. Richardson inaugurated his campaign in
Los Angeles with a bilingual speech. Supporters of Obama
have launched a Latino website with the message: "Tu voto
tiene swing!" ("Your vote has swing!")

Clinton has a bilingual "social networking" Web page that
includes her confession that she is not a very good cook.

Before choosing a candidate, Democratic Rep. Hilda L. Solis
of California said she wanted to make sure the outreach to
Latinos is "not just tokenism." California, she
emphasized, "is a big prize."

Illinois Democratic Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, who led House
efforts for a broad immigration measure, said it was more
than home-state loyalty that drove him to Obama. "We talked
early about his campaign and I know the issue of
immigration is very dear to him, and it is the pivotal
issue which I looked at," Gutierrez said.

Texas Democratic Rep. Charles Gonzalez signed on with
Edwards long before Richardson came calling.

As a member of the powerful House Energy and Commerce
Committee, Gonzalez said he wanted to help refine Edwards'
cornerstone anti-poverty agenda. "If we get in early enough
to give some guidance on some issues, that's good for
Latinos," he said.

Richardson, whose endorsement list includes longtime
friends like House Intelligence Committee Chairman
Silvestre Reyes of Texas, often reminds Latinos that he
knows them best.

"I know firsthand about the work that you do, not because
I'm reminded every four years about the importance of the
Latino vote. I know because I have been in the trenches,"
he recently told a Hispanic group in Los Angeles.

One thing is clear about endorsements, Latino or otherwise,
said Gonzalez of the Velasquez Institute. The winner will
reward those who jumped on board at the start, not at the
end. "Make no mistake," he said. "This is hardball
Democratic politics."

Gebe Martinez is a longtime journalist in Washington and a
frequent lecturer and commentator on the policy and
politics of Capitol Hill.

TM & © THE POLITICO & POLITICO.COM, a division of
Allbritton Communications Company

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