Posted on Fri, Jul. 25, 2008
By PATRICK McGEEpmcgee@star-telegram.com
Hispanic voters prefer Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama over his Republican opponent John McCain by nearly three to one, according to a survey released Thursday.
Latinos also prefer Obama’s views over McCain’s on specific issues, such as education, jobs, healthcare and immigration., according to the Washington, D.C.-based Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan organization that researches the growing U.S. Hispanic population.
The national survey of 892 registered Hispanic voters found that nearly a third of the voters said Obama’s race would help him win their vote, while nearly a quarter said McCain’s race would hurt him.
Obama’s surge is denting gains that Republican President George Bush made in this voting bloc during the 2004 election against Democrat John Kerry, said Jim Riddlesperger, a Texas Christian University political science professor.
"If this trend holds, Obama is doing 13 percent better than Kerry did, and at this point McCain is doing 21 percent worse than Bush did," he said.
Although Latino turnout is lower than for other ethnic groups, experts believe they could be crucial in the 2008 election because their numbers are strong enough to matter in the battleground states of New Mexico, Colorado, Florida and Nevada.
Cecilia Muñoz, senior vice president for policy for the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic civil rights and advocacy group, said both candidates addressed her group this month, an indication of their eagerness to win Hispanic votes.
"Neither candidate appears to be taking this community’s vote for granted," she said.
In the U.S. Senate, both Obama and McCain voted for legislation that would legalize the immigration status of millions of illegal immigrants, and both voted for the construction of fencing along the Mexican border to stop illegal immigration.
Hessy Fernandez, a spokeswoman for the McCain campaign, said McCain’s push for immigration reform shows that he supports issues important to Hispanics. She said more Hispanics can come to McCain’s side by Election Day.
"They know he has been fighting for policies that benefit the Latino community for more than two decades," she said. "He was a champion on the immigration issue, while Obama was nowhere to be found."
She said McCain won 70 percent of the Hispanic vote when he ran for U.S. Senate in Arizona.
But Obama campaign spokeswoman Shannon Gilson said more Hispanics are coming to Obama’s side because they like the vision he articulates.
"The more voters get to know Senator Obama and his track record and his vision of bringing people together for change, the better he does," she said. "Senator Obama has a long record of standing up for issues important to the Hispanic community, including the fight for immigration reform."
In a nationwide election a Republican candidate cannot realistically hope to win a majority of the Latino vote, according to Riddlesperger. The group leans too heavily Democratic for that.
The Pew survey suggests that it will be an uphill battle for McCain because 70 percent of registered Latino voters say the country is going in the wrong direction and 65 percent of them say they identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party.
"Latinos are dissatisfied. They are dissatisfied with the direction of the country," said Mark Lopez, associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center and coauthor of the report. "There’s just a general movement away from the Republican Party."
Pauline Gasca-Valenciano registers people to vote in Tarrant County on behalf of the League of United Latin American Citizens and she said she sees Hispanic voters leaning toward Obama. The Democrat has struck a chord with the Hispanic community by making his campaign slogan "Yes we can," the English version of Hispanic civil rights leader César Chávez’s "Sí se puede."
PATRICK McGEE, 817-685-3806