With ethnic vote so crucial, usual rules don't apply.

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Thu Jul 24 14:57:52 UTC 2008

With ethnic vote so crucial, usual rules don't apply.  Candidates are
forced to spend time, resources on states often ignored

McCain and Obama have reached out to blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans

Obama expected to win many minority votes; McCain hopes to stem defections

(CNN) -- Both Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain are treading some
unfamiliar campaign-year terrain this summer as key blocs of ethnic
voters shift the electoral landscape and put previously uncontested
states, big and small, up for grabs. Sen. Barack Obama's campaign is
expected to make massive gains among minority voters in November.  In
Montana, Obama's spring visit to a Crow reservation highlighted a
fresh fight to harness the often-overlooked Native American vote and
may have proved decisive. Now, his campaign is hoping support from
that community might help put his effort over the top. In a string of
key battleground states, from Colorado and New Mexico in the west to
Florida in the east, the Hispanic vote could make the difference.

Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political
Report, casts a skeptical eye on many Democrats who, he says, "look at
any state that has any African-American voters and talk about how it's
putting every state and district in play."
But some states, he says, could "get competitive" amid a new wave of
black voter registration, forcing McCain to commit resources and time
to states Republican candidates can usually ignore.

At the end of the primary battle between Obama and Sen. Hillary
Clinton, Democrats worried that Hispanic voters, a majority of whom
supported her, wouldn't warm to him.  Now, polls show Obama winning
that vote by a large margin, and even traditionally Republican voters,
like Miami's Cuban-American community, appear to be in play. "Will
Little Havana Go Blue?" a New York Times Magazine feature asked this
month. (The answer: maybe.) Last month, Gallup released a poll that
showed Obama leading McCain among Hispanics 59 percent to 29 percent.

McCain and Obama both addressed gatherings of three of the nation's
most influential Hispanic groups this summer. Even as McCain tried to
reassure conservatives that he would stress security in his
immigration policy, the presumptive Republican nominee hit the
airwaves with a string of Spanish-language radio ads and a television
spot highlighting the service of Latino veterans. McCain will not
address the Unity: Journalists of Color conference in Chicago,
Illinois, this week. But he will be speaking again at the annual Urban
League gathering next week, midway through a summer full of similar
appearances, along with town halls and ad campaigns targeting Hispanic

Does McCain's campaign believe that it can win any significant number
of black votes or build on President Bush's 2004 success with Hispanic
voters? It won't make any predictions.  "We are working really hard in
getting every American's vote," spokeswoman Hessy Fernandez said when
asked to venture a guess. "That includes minorities." President Bush
took 44 percent of the Hispanic votes four years ago, helping him win
re-election. But only 30 percent of that demographic cast ballots for
Republicans in the 2006 congressional elections.

Put part of the blame for that drop on the divisive debate over
immigration reform. McCain himself said this year that "the tenor of
the debate has harmed our image among Hispanics." As the Obama camp
builds on expected gains among ethnic voters, especially
African-Americans, the focus for the McCain campaign seems to be less
an effort to make major inroads than a quest to stem massive
defections. The Arizona senator is hoping education appeals and social
values concerns can help chip away at an expected landslide for Obama
among black voters, just enough to keep traditionally Republican
states like North Carolina and Georgia from moving to the Democratic

It's a daunting but crucial task: In 2004, a concerted outreach effort
to black churches over issues like gay marriage helped President Bush
win 16 percent of the black vote in Ohio. Decisive or not, that margin
translated into thousands of votes in a state where a razor-thin
victory delivered a second term for the incumbent. Last month, the
Obama team sent many of the staffers who helped pull off a surprise
victory in the Iowa caucuses to the newly competitive state of
Virginia, where, the campaign manager said at a Washington fundraiser,
registering black and young voters will deliver a win.

He added that the campaign would be monitoring red states like
Mississippi and Louisiana to see whether black voters might put them
in play as fall approached and that unregistered black voters in
Georgia would put the state back in play. "We think Georgia is very
competitive," he said. Now, prominent black Republicans such as
Armstrong Williams and Colin Powell have publicly flirted with the
idea of backing Obama's White House bid -- and John McCain, who
skipped the NAACP's annual convention in 2007, addressed the
organization's gathering this summer.

McCain's effort to reach out to minority voters faces another hurdle:
Despite a high-profile outreach by former Republican National
Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman, there are no minority Republican
candidates with a strong chance of success in any congressional or
gubernatorial race. Bobby Jindal, Louisiana's 37-year-old
Indian-American governor, is reportedly high on McCain's vice
presidential list, but there are no black Republicans in Congress or
in the nation's governor's mansions.

In an opinion piece last fall, as the countdown to Iowa entered the
home stretch and major candidates skipped events targeting black
voters, former Rep. J.C. Watts, one of a handful of black Republicans
to serve in Congress, sounded a frustrated note. "I have often said
one of the reasons more blacks don't support Republicans is because
they don't trust the GOP establishment," Watts said. "I can, without
fear of contradiction, assure you the Conventional Wisdom Caucus and
the Status Quo Caucus and the same-old-tired-establishment consultants
are running the GOP front-runners' campaigns -- and aiming to get no
more than one-twelfth of the black vote." In an election year where
old certainties have been upended, some laws of the campaign universe
will inevitably assert themselves, Rothenberg predicted.  "Will black
voters matter more than white working-class voters?" he asked. There
is no answer, he says, but every voting bloc lays claim to the honor
of supplying the winning margin.

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