Thursday, March 6, 2008

Latino Voters and African American Candidates

Once again, please bare with me while I get my book manuscript in shape to get off to my editor at the University of Illinois Press and complete an essay for a journal in American studies.

Take a look at the article below and originally published in Time magazine regrading Latino Voters and African American Candidates. I would love to read your comments.

The Black-Brown Divide
Hillary Clinton has done well with Latino voters in the early-primary states. Is that because her opponent is African American?
By Gregory Rodriguez, New America Foundation
TIME Magazine | February 4, 2008

I imagine he said it as if he were confessing a deep, dark secret. And, of course (wink, wink), he had no idea his little confession would make the rounds. But when Sergio Bendixen, Hillary Clinton's pollster and resident Latino expert, told the New Yorker after her win in New Hampshire that "the Hispanic voter -- and I want to say this very carefully -- has not shown a lot of willingness or affinity to support black candidates," he started a firestorm of innuendo that has begun to shape how the media are covering the race for the Democratic presidential nomination in the heavily Hispanic Western states.

After the Jan.19 Nevada caucuses, in which Latino voters supported Senator Clinton by a ratio of nearly 3 to 1, some journalists literally borrowed Bendixen's analysis word for word before going on to speculate about Barack Obama's political fortunes in such delegate-rich states as California and Texas. Ignoring the possibility that Nevada's Latino voters actually preferred Clinton or, at the very least, had fond memories of her husband's presidency, more than a few pundits jumped on the idea that Latino voters simply didn't like the fact that her opponent was African American.

The only problem with this new conventional wisdom is that it's wrong. "It's one of those unqualified stereotypes about Latinos that people embrace even though there's not a bit of data to support it," says political scientist Fernando Guerra of Loyola Marymount University, an expert on Latino voting patterns. "Here in Los Angeles, all three black members of Congress represent heavily Latino districts and couldn't survive without significant Latino support."

Nationwide, no fewer than eight black House members -- including New York's Charles Rangel and Texas' Al Green -- represent districts that are more than 25% Latino and must therefore depend heavily on Latino votes. And there are other examples. University of Washington political scientist Matt Barreto has begun compiling a list of black big-city mayors who have received large-scale Latino support over the past several decades. In 1983, Harold Washington pulled 80% of the Latino vote in Chicago. David Dinkins won 73% in New York City's mayoral race in 1989. And Denver's Wellington Webb garnered more than 70% in 1991, as did Ron Kirk in Dallas in 1995 and again in 1997 and '99. If he had gone back further, Barreto could have added longtime Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley, who won a majority of Latino votes in all four of his re-election campaigns between 1977 and 1989.

Are these political scientists arguing that race is irrelevant to Latino voters? Not at all. Hispanics, coming from many countries, are hardly monolithic; but all things being equal, Latino voters would probably prefer to support a Latino candidate over a non-Latino candidate, and a white candidate over a black candidate. That's largely because they are less familiar with black politicians, as there are fewer big-name black candidates than white ones, and because, stereotypes not withstanding, many Latinos don't live anywhere near African Americans. California, for example, which has the largest Latino population in the country, is only 6% black. Furthermore, in politics, things are never equal.

"It's all about context," says Rodolfo deala Garza, a political-science professor at Columbia University. "It always depends on who else is running. Would Latino Democrats vote for a black candidate over a white Republican? Hell, yes. How about over a Latino Republican? I'm very sure they would." Guerra says name recognition and the role of mediating entities such as unions, political parties and Latino elected officials are also important. For a well-known black politician or incumbent, there is little problem winning Latino voters. But when the candidate is not well-known, it helps to be endorsed by mediating institutions that people trust. Part of Obama's problem in Nevada was that, apart from the late endorsement by the Culinary Workers' Union, he didn't have a lot of that institutional support. And though he has begun to build those relationships in California -- including the endorsement of the Latina head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor -- he may not have enough time to attain the kind of recognition among Latino voters that Clinton enjoys.

But if there's one thing we're learning in this historic year, it's that voters are even less easy to pigeonhole than candidates.

Copyright, TIME Magazine

Read Rodriguez's another article Clinton's Latino Spin

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