US: Through Ads, Candidates Vie For Hispanic Voters
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Sun Jul 6 20:14:01 UTC 2008
Through Ads, Candidates Vie For Hispanic Voters
by Martin Kaste
Weekend Edition Sunday, July 6, 2008 · There is little doubt that
Hispanics will play a significant role in this year's presidential
race between Barack Obama and John McCain. The Census Bureau reports
an 18 percent jump in Hispanic voters in 2006, compared with the
previous midterm election. They are also a big part of the population
in key swing states, such as Florida, New Mexico and Colorado.
Hispanic advertising consultants were thrilled about a television spot
that ran in Puerto Rico a month ago. In it, Obama says in Spanish, "I
was born on an island, and I understand that food, gas and everything
costs more." The Democratic presidential candidate does not actually
speak Spanish, so the decent pronunciation in the commercial must be
the product of a lot of careful effort. It is a sign of just how hard
the candidates are willing to work to reach out to Hispanics. Lionel
Sosa, who creates ads aimed at Hispanics for McCain, says the
Republican candidate recently spent a whole afternoon recording
advertisements targeting the Hispanic population – 10 in one sitting.
"He knows how important it is. Obama knows how important it is. And I
think that's for the good of the Latino community," says Sosa.
So far, the ads tend to be broad-brush appeals to Hispanic pride and
patriotism, such as McCain's Memorial Day ad, which was subtitled in
Spanish. "My friends, I want you, the next time you're down in
Washington, D.C., to go to the Vietnam War memorial and look at the
names engraved on black granite," says McCain, in one of his
advertisements. "You're going to find a lot of Hispanic names." The
major candidates' Spanish ads generally avoid specific policy
proposals. McCain's commercials, in particular, do not mention his
efforts to legalize the status of illegal immigrants, even though his
track record would presumably win him points with Hispanics.
One Size Does Not Fit All
Then again, it is risky to presume anything about a group of voters.
Mariann Davies says she resents politicians who act as if all Latinos
"The Latino vote, I really think it's a myth," says Davies, "because
the Hispanic population in the United States is diverse and always has
been, politically, ethnically, racially, linguistically."
Davies, whose parents came here from Ecuador, is one of the founders
of "You Don't Speak for Me," a group of Hispanics opposed to what they
call "amnesty" for illegal immigrants. She says second- and
third-generation Hispanics do not like being pigeonholed, even on the
issue of language. For instance, she is not automatically charmed by
the sound of ads spoken in Spanish.
"That just cuts to one of the other issues about assimilation. If
you're a citizen who votes, you know to become a citizen you have to
take an English language test," she says. "So why would you have to
get information in a different language?"
Following Corporate America
If candidates fear a backlash for advertising in Spanish, they do not
show it. Adam Segal, director of the Hispanic Voter Project at Johns
Hopkins University, says politicians can draw courage from the example
of corporate America.
"Virtually every major corporation in America has massive
Spanish-language outreach efforts, marketing, advertising, so I'm not
sure it will cause an uproar if a Republican candidate created an ad
in Spanish," says Segal. "I think the real issue is, where are they on
With a growing number of media outlets, even as Spanish political ads
multiply, they are becoming less visible to English speakers.
Especially this year, as political marketing migrates to cell phones.
"I'm looking at the data right now — and, of those who send or receive
a text message on a daily basis, 73 percent of Hispanics do, while
only 53 percent of whites do across the board," says Jed Alpert, CEO
of Mobile Commons, a company that sets up text messaging systems for
Those numbers have been noticed by the campaigns. The McCain campaign
is planning to reach out to Hispanics with text messages, but on this,
the competition is out in front: If you text Obama the letters E-S-P,
you are automatically signed up for campaign updates ... en Espanol.
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