Sunday, March 2, 2008

Money Better Spent on Mining Latino Votes

money Latinos
Many consider next Tuesday’s primary election in Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Vermont, as a mini-Super Tuesday make-or-break election for Senator Hillary Clinton. And both Democratic Party candidates are beating the band to woo Latino voters into their column to settle the question, the ultimate party favorite to square off with the presumptive Republican Party candidate, Senator John McCain.

They are really doing more than beating the band. According to James Pinkerton, his article appeared in the Houston Chronicle on February 29, 2008, Sens. Clinton and Obama are spending unprecedented sums to convey their messages in Spanish ads as “part of a Texas primary media blitz that one national campaign finance expert estimates will end up dumping $20 million in Texas for the March 4 contest.” (Click here for the article.)

My impression is that no previous political campaign has spent as much marketing to Latinos, albeit the lion’s share will undoubtedly land in the coffers of corporate media outlets – a huge boon for the Spanish language networks.

It appears that Latinos represent the mother lode of votes to determine the outcome in Texas, fully 25 percent of the state electorate. This is a higher percentage than they represent in California, and while 30 percent of the state’s Democratic Party primary turnout was Latino, an estimated 67 percent swung for Clinton. All things being equal in relation to other segments of the Texan electorate, African Americans will likely support Senator Barack Obama in the 90 percentage range, the white vote will split between the two, and the Latino vote is the unknown in play. It’s nice to be wanted.

This is why I have always advocated for competitive districts, multiple parties, choice diversity, and an electoral system of the 21st century in America – proportional representation, public campaign financing, equal media access, redistricting of districts not by the seated legislators, elimination of the archaic electoral college, same day registration, and other necessary democratic electoral reforms. This all would make for much greater participation in civil society by all constituencies.

But, back to the money question in Texas. Mariachi bands, Spanish language ballads lauding the attributes of the candidates, messages emphasizing family values, healthcare reform and educational access, while minimizing the immigration issue, are costing Clinton and Obama literally millions – an estimated $8 million for the former, $10 million for the later, and the remainder by others. And this is just in a matter of several weeks of media exposure. What a waste! All message, but where’s the proverbial beef?

The money could be better spent to empower a still too disenfranchised electorate – in voter registration, education, organization, and ultimately, mobilization. In fact, those experienced in voter registration peg the reasonable investment amount of $10 per new registrant in the average campaign. In another words, a $20 million investment in such a laudable and democratic experiment could harvest 2 million new Latino voters empowered to cast their lot with those who truly value their worth – think enough about them to invest in their electoral empowerment, in human capital not just media mesmerizing.

The Willie C. Velasquez Institute estimates that there are still six million unregistered eligible Latino citizens to be harvested. It also estimates that of the close to 10 million Latino registered voters nationally, less than 60 percent actually reach the ballot box on Election Day to punch for their candidate preference. The 40 percent voter apathy is really a question of education and motivation. On a different note, there are also 9 million permanent legal residents eligible for U.S. citizenship status – a mine full of potential new voters.

What party and candidate(s) speak to the issues of relevance and concern to Latino voters, short on rhetoric and long on concerted action, legislation, and social mobilization? Who will bring these voters to the dance as Willie C. Velasquez, in life, used to repeat the old Texan refrain? A recent experience demonstrates that one astute right-wing political advisor/consultant had it right (for this side) when he bet on and worked to bring a reported 4 million energized voters into the presidential fray of 2004 – the evangelical factor. I am referring to Mr. Karl Rove. George W. won his second term and all else is history.

This was a good example of a campaign putting its money where its mouth is. Can Clinton and Obama say as much, or the Democratic Party for that matter? Only time will tell, but the Texas experience indicates that they still don’t get the message.

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