June 1, 2007
Hillary and HispanicsBy Ed Lasky
The strong and widely celebrated bond between Bill Clinton and our nation's black community has somewhat obscured the growing ties that Hillary has independently forged with the nation's Hispanic community over the years. These ties and her actions to capitalize on them may very well prove to be the deciding factor in winning the Democratic nomination and then the whole enchilada as she returns to the White House.*
A heightened awareness of her outreach toward the Hispanic community was sparked by her recent endorsement by Antonio Villaraigosa, the mayor of Los Angeles. Villaraigosa is one of the nation's most prominent Hispanic politicians, and will likely serve as a strong advocate for Clinton among Hispanics, particularly in vote-rich Southern California. He also has crossover appeal to other groups across ethnic lines. California's population is over 35 percent Hispanic, though historically they have accounted for a much lower share of total voters. This share has been increasing rapidly, though (8 percent in 1992 14 percent in 2006).
One of the reasons behind this low participation rate is that many Hispanics are foreign citizens or are unregistered. This might soon become history. The nation's largest Spanish-language broadcasting network, Univision, has announced a broad push to register Hispanics as citizens. This network has as a major investor a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton, who also happens to be a very politically active player on the national stage.
Given the fragmented nature of the Spanish-language print media, support at Univision might well prove to be a powerful asset for Hillary Clinton, not just in the primary but heading into November 2008.
Politics often relies on perception as well as momentum, and Hillary's chief pollster showed admirable alacrity in capitalizing on Villaraigosa's endorsement of his candidate. Mark Penn has e-mailed to supportersa state-by-state breakdown of where Clinton has the most strength with Latino voters. Hillary has a very strong lead over her prime challenger Barack Obama among Hispanics in key Democratic primary states. She dominates in California, Texas, New Jersey, Florida and New York- states with early Democratic primaries and huge numbers of delegates.
As Penn notes, these states (many of them located in the West and Southwest) have Democratic primary electorates that are heavily Hispanic. Hillary's dominating lead among Hispanics, if it is sustainable, may very well prove to be decisive in the primary campaign to come, especially given growing tensions between the nation's black and Hispanic populations, caused by political and economic competition, increasing crime between members of the two groups as they intermingle in the same neighborhoods, and aggravated by the racial spoils system known as affirmative action, with blacks fearing displacement from public sector jobs in particular.
Penn's missive also outlines the key people in Hillary's campaign who happen to be of Hispanic heritage as evidence of her "commitment to the Hispanic community." He highlights the role of Patti Solis-Doyle, campaign manager for Senator Clinton. However Penn neglected to mention that Ms. Solis-Doyle is from Chicago and has strong political connections to the Hispanic political community there (a nice counter to Obama's strength among the African-American population in Chicago). Hillary grew up in Chicago, of course, but more importantly Soils-Doyle's bother is a well-connected aldermen in Chicago and is president of the influential City Council.
Hillary also has other formidable assets in place in the Windy City. Illinois Congressman Rahm Emanuel has longstanding ties to the Clintons and is one of the most powerful Democrats in Congress. He also has sway in Chicago through close ties with the legendary Daley political machine. Emanuel has been reluctant to commit to either Hillary or hometown hero Barack Obama, but one of these days he will have to climb out from his self-stated position of "under the desk" and commit to one or the other. Aside from Emanuel, the Clintons have close relationships to the Daley family (the mayor's brother, William Daley, served as Commerce Secretary under Bill Clinton. Both Emanuel and Daley have strong ties to the Hispanic electorate in Chicago and may well wield their influence on behalf of Hillary Clinton.
To complete the trinity of cities that have large Hispanic populations and have an outsized impact on primary elections in their states, Hillary (as befits a Senator from New York State) has a strong base of support on New York City, home to millions of Hispanics. Given her strength in the two elections she has won in New York and the benefits she has brought home, there is no reason to believe that this Hispanic support will shift to Barack Obama.
Penn's memo also outlines a major strategic advantage Hillary will have over Obama going into the primary: a record to run on that reveals a studious attention over the years towards the Hispanic community. From the pen of Penn:
Obama has been Senator all of two years and during much of that time has been promoting his books and his Presidential campaign. Given his relative youth, his efforts to appeal to Hispanics cannot compare to Hillary's actions over the years. While Obama worked on neighborhood efforts on behalf of African-Americans in Chicago, she was cultivating Hispanics across America.
Given that Barack Obama might very well be in a position to capture a large share of America's African-American vote (with an assist from fellow Chicagoan Oprah Winfrey), Hillary may well have made a strategic decision to devote her energies to the Hispanic community. This may not only help her in the primaries but will prove invaluable in her race to the Presidency. History teaches that Hillary can take black support in the general election for granted, and that turnout will be the only real issue to worry about. Given the Democrats' hunger to regain the White House, it seems a safe bet that turnout efforts will be extensive.
Hispanics tend to lean Democratic in national elections, but President Bush was able to show in his two Presidential elections that Republican candidates can garner higher shares of the Hispanic population (he won about 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004). However, Bush was an unusually attractive candidate to the nation's Hispanics.
He spoke Spanish, was Governor of Texas, had demonstrated assiduous attention to that state's Hispanic population, and had promoted people with Hispanic heritage to key positions in his Administration (no snickers, please, over Alberto Gonzales). Furthermore, his brother Jeb was a popular Governor of Florida, a state with a very influential and large Hispanic population, who is married to a woman born and raised in Mexico.
These were Bush-specific assets that he used to promote himself in the Hispanic community. None of the current Republican candidates have the same long history of ties to Hispanics, and none has a record comparable to Hillary's to run on regarding specific actions taken that would be perceived as favorable to the Hispanics. Undoubtedly one of the reasons that John McCain has been in the forefront of immigration reform efforts is his belief in the importance of attracting Hispanic support; it is also one of the reasons that current Republican infighting regarding immigration will redound to the benefit of the Democratic candidate going into November 2008.
Should the Democrats' candidate be Hillary Clinton, her efforts to build Hispanic support will not only help her defeat Barack Obama but may well be crucial in her drive to the White House. Her play for the support from this slice of the electorate may well prove to be the play that wins the game for her.
* This article does not address the viability of Governor Bill Richardson's campaign to become the Democratic nominee. He is the only candidate with any Hispanic heritage (his mother was Mexican) and is popular in New Mexico. However, he has flailed on the national stage and his chances to win the nod have faded. Many consider him to be running for the Vice Presidential nomination.
Ed Lasky is news editor of American Thinker.