March 7, 2008

How Clinton Won Texas: Hispanic Media Weigh In

By Peter Micek
New America Media

Hillary Clinton won the Texas primary, and she has Latino voters to thank. The reasons, according to Spanish-language media, have more to do with politics and name recognition than racial prejudices.

Clinton proved that she still commands an overwhelming lead over Barack Obama among Latino voters, who made up nearly one third of Texas voters in Tuesday’s record-breaking turnout. According to CNN exit polling on March 4, Latino voters in the Texas primary supported Clinton over Obama by a two-to-one margin.

To understand the candidate’s continued popularity among Latinos in Texas, one need only read the Hispanic press, which has been following Clinton’s campaign closely.

In his article, "Mexican Tastes Do Not Include Obama," Raoul Lowery Contreras writes in Spanish-language newsweekly HispanicVista.com that the Latino vote is no monolith.

Obama may have done well with the Virginia "Hispanic vote," Contreras writes, but that was no indicator for Texas.

"Virginia Hispanics are mostly Salvadorans," he notes. "With few exceptions, Salvadorans came here to escape the civil war that Salvadoran leftists lost to right-of-center conservative forces. They carry with them leftist souls that have no embodiment in American politics other than in Obama, the most liberal senator in the Senate."

Contreras predicted that most Mexican Americans in Texas, like the Mexicans in California and Arizona, would not vote for Obama.

Despite differences in the Hispanic populations of California and Texas – the Texans are largely Mexican-Americans born in the state, who speak English well, in addition to Spanish – both groups solidly backed Hillary.

Hispanic voters gave Clinton the win in California, according to a Feb. 29 article in Spanish-language La Opinión, a Los Angeles daily newspaper.

"Latinos have kept alive Hillary's campaign," said Andy Hernández, a Houston, Texas Democratic activist and Clinton supporter, in La Opinión. If Obama wins 40 percent of the Latino vote in Texas, he said, he will have gained much ground on his opponent.

CNN exit polls gave him 32 percent.

The large population of Latinos in Texas brought the Hispanic vote into the spotlight before the state's primary. Along with it came a story of tension between African Americans and Latinos.

"It is a reality that we cannot hide: You see it on the streets, in schools, and in prisons," wrote syndicated columnist Jorge Ramos in his Feb. 29 column, "New Rule: Latinos Decide."

The friction comes from economic and political competition between two groups looking for "the same thing: a better way of life and more representation." Ramos insists, though, that Hispanics would vote for African-American candidates, citing previous Latino support for New York's black Mayor David Dinkins, Dallas' Ron Kirk, and for Obama in Virginia and Arizona.

"Reality" supports the idea that Mexican voters look beyond race, wrote Gustavo Arellano in his comedic "¡Ask a Mexican!" syndicated column.

"Mexicans largely ignored the presidential run of New Mexico governor Bill Richardson and have supported black politicians," Arellano said, "from the days of Vicente Guerrero (the mulatto Mexican president who outlawed slavery in 1829) to big-city mayors like Tom Bradley and Harold Washington."

As for Obama, Arellano says, name recognition and policies have more to do with the issue than skin color.

When asked by a reader, "Why won’t Mexicans vote for a black man?" Arellano responds sarcastically: "Heaven forbid Mexicans support a nationally known personality with whom they’re more familiar instead of a first-term senator from a flyover state. And anyone ever think Mexicans are more inclined to vote for Clinton because they like her centrist policies more than Obama’s liberal promises?"

But as Democratic candidates campaigned in Texas, the larger story in the Latino media was the candidates’ unprecedented bid for Hispanic votes.

Columnist Jorge Ramos heralded the arrival of these politically powerful Latinos who will form one-third of the United States population by 2050.

"Have you noticed that no one talks about the Hispanic vote as a sleeping giant anymore?" asked Ramos in the Dallas-Fort Worth Spanish-language newspaper Diario La Estrella. "We are more awake than ever. We are many and we will be even more."

The Democratic candidates' Feb. 21 debate in Austin, Texas, broadcast in English and Spanish – which Ramos moderated – proved the relevance of the Latino vote, Ramos said.

San Antonio’s Spanish-language Rumbo newspaper, which was recently bought by ImpreMedia, deployed reporters throughout the state before the election. Last week, it published two exclusives: an interview with Clinton and a commentary by Obama.

A host of lighter stories also filled Latino newspapers, including a look at the music campaigners used to attract votes.

"The Democratic candidates now want to get to Latinos' hearts through their music," wrote Liliana Vargas-Lemons in Al Día, a Spanish-language publication of the Dallas Morning News Co.

The group Amigos de Obama, or Friends of Obama, contracted a mariachi band and produced "¡Viva Obama 2008!" The commercial and music video praises Obama's humble roots, activism in Chicago and dedication to service.

In response, Vargas-Lemons said, Hillary Clinton rolled out a new campaign commercial with the song, "Hillary, Hillary Clinton" sung by Walter Suhr & The Mango Punch, with a presentation by Tejano or Tex-Mex musician Johnny Canales.

Political activist Renny Rosas of Fort Worth doubted the value of the songs in getting Latino votes. The most politicized Latinos are well integrated into American culture and speak English, she told Al Día.

However, as a marketing tool, she said, songs in any language are a good strategy.

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