The Republican party’s Latino appeal (Video)
Conservative groups are making a major new push to woo Latino voters by running a series of expensive Spanish-language television ads in key Hispanic markets that depict a Latina mother turning against President Obama for his failures to halt unemployment and to reduce the national debt.
The unprecedented new ad campaign, sponsored by American Crossroads, the funding group developed by Bush presidential mastermind Karl Rove, is the clearest indication yet that America’s fastest-growing voter group is re-emerging as a critical 2012 battleground, with Latino voter swings in battleground states like Florida, Colorado, Nevada and even New Jersey increasingly likely to determine whether President Obama wins a second term.
The new series of GOP ads, entitled “Wake Up” (or “Despertarse”, in Spanish), are striking for several reasons. First, they have a cultural subtlety and depth rarely seen in the GOP’s past communications targeting Latinos. They also play on the infamous “3 o’clock in the morning” segments that Hillary Clinton tried to use in 2008 against Obama, suggesting that she was better prepared to respond to a national emergency on sudden notice, while Obama’s ability to lead was uncertain. Only, this time, it’s not Clinton – who, coincidentally, is enormously popular with Latinos, especially women – but a young Latino mother who awakens in the wee hours, and starts pacing around her house, wondering whether Obama and the Democrats have failed to deliver on their promises to fix the economy, and whether they can be trusted again with the country’s stewardship.
Cleverly, the ads never personally attack Obama, whose favourability rating, which has slipped considerably among Latinos during the past 18 months (from 72% to 53%), remains higher with this group than with most others. The Latina mother in the ad notes that Obama “sounded so good” when she first voted for him. Now, as she wanders from her bedroom, and checks in on her sleeping children, she wonders how best to protect their future.
Even if you disagree with the message – or who’s promoting it – it’s hard to deny that the ads are well crafted. And by appealing to Latino family values, especially the welfare of children, they could easily resonate, especially with swing voters, estimated at nearly 40% of the total Latino vote. Latino Democrats, of course, are likely to dismiss the campaign as a GOP propaganda ploy, noting that most of the GOP is still hostile to Latinos on one of their cherished issues, immigration. But swing voters, polls show, aren’t any more impressed with Obama’s handling of immigration than they are with his management of the economy.
Undoubtedly, the close involvement of newly elected Latino Republicans like New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez – the first Latina governor in US history – in the creation of the Crossroads ads are one reason they’re so good. Martinez exemplifies the new GOP orthodoxy, which includes support for “legal” immigration but a continuing hard line on illegal immigration, now made more presentable, perhaps, because it’s Latino leaders espousing it. Martinez did quite well with Latinos last November, as did other GOP Latino hard-liners like Marco Rubio in Florida (who won 57% of the Latino vote). But it’s not clear if such support will transfer to non-Latino Republicans, including the eventual GOP nominee.
The new Crossroads ad campaign is actually just one part of the GOP’s – and strategist Karl Rove’s – new Latino “offensive”. Another is a decision to spend millions to promote 100 new Latino political candidates, building on Republican success during last year’s midterms. Crossroads co-director Ed Gillespie, Bush’s former communications director, frankly acknowledges that Republicans face a long-term demographic disaster if they don’t expand their ability to reach and retain Latino voters at the level that Bush formerly achieved.
That Rove and Co are starting this early, a full 16 months before the 2012 election, is a testament to their awareness of the long-term political stakes, but also the short-term opportunities. Democrats are kidding themselves if they think they can sit back and hope that a GOP ticket that includes the charismatic Rubio – whom GOP frontrunner nominee Mitt Romney has all but promised to choose as his running mate – won’t hold genuine appeal for Latino voters, with the economy this bad, and Latinos, like the rest of the country, facing their worst jobless rate in decades.
That means Obama will have to do more than point to his appointment of Sonia Sotomayor as the first Latina supreme court judge, or his presidential trip to Puerto Rico (the first by an American president since JFK), if he expects to keep Latino voters in the fold. The White House response so far? It just launched a Spanish TV ad campaign of its own. It’s a start perhaps, but indicative of the reactive state that the White House now finds itself in.
“Wake Up!”‘ the new Crossroads ads tell Latinos. But that might be advice President Obama needs to hear.