Candidates Battle for Latino Vote

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As of Wednesday morning, the Democratic contest in New Mexico is too close to call. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been heavily courting New Mexico voters. Thirty-eight percent of voters statewide are Latinos, the highest percentage in the country. Luis Clemens, editor of Candidato USA, a Web site on Latino politics, talks about the Latino turnout on Super Tuesday.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Joining us now from Albuquerque, New Mexico is Luis Clemens. He's the editor of Candidato USA, a website on Latino politics. We spoke with him last week about the Latino vote. And we're checking back with him to see how this voting block turned out on Super Tuesday. Good morning.

Mr. LUIS CLEMENS (Candidato USA): Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Let's start with the state that you are in. As of this morning, New Mexico is still too close to call. Only a few hundred votes separate Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Of the two of them, which one benefited from the Latino vote there?

Mr. CLEMENS: Well, according to exit polls, Hillary Clinton benefited quite strongly from the Latino voters in the state. And what makes New Mexico interesting is that it has the highest percentage, nationwide, of Latino voters. You're talking about 38 percent of all voters, statewide. And 56 percent of them, according to the exit polls, went for Hillary Clinton.

MONTAGNE: Now, we've just heard that in the biggest state, California, twice the number of Latinos voted for Hillary Clinton than voted for Barack Obama. Pretty big gap there. What's the appeal of Hillary Clinton?

Mr. CLEMENS: Well, there's several factors. First off, name recognition. She's a known quantity. Second, she's part of the Clinton administration as the way most Latino voters view it. They associate her with the economic prosperity of the Clinton administration. Third, she's made a consistent effort over the course of last year to try and attract Latino voters. And lastly, she's really had a great deal of success gathering big name Latino endorsements in California, such as the mayor of Los Angeles.

MONTAGNE: There has also been talk about Latinos not being comfortable with an African American candidate. Did yesterday's vote generally across the country bear that out?

Mr. CLEMENS: Well, if you were to look at, say, Illinois, where Barack Obama got 50 percent of the Latino vote, that would seem to show that there's no natural ceiling of Latino support for an African-American candidate. We have plenty of examples at the municipal level, at the congressional level, where Latino voters have voted for black candidates.

MONTAGNE: Let's turn to the Republicans. Did John McCain keep the support of Hispanic Latino voters that polling had predicted he would?

Mr. CLEMENS: He was the number one vote getter among Latino Republicans in California, which is really the only Super Tuesday state where there was a significant presence of Latino Republicans. He had only 35 percent of the vote. Secondly, interestingly, was Mike Huckabee with 20 percent. Followed hard upon by Mitt Romney with 19.

MONTAGNE: And coming up, the Texas primary is March 4th. Big state. Significant Latino population. Roughly one in four voters. Who will have the advantage with those voters from either party?

Mr. CLEMENS: Well, I think clearly on the Republican side, John McCain has shown that he can count on a hefty amount of Latino Republican support. We saw that in Florida, where he had more than half of all Latino Republican votes. We see that again in California, where he had 35 percent. I think we'll see a number at least that strong in Texas for McCain. And the reason's very simple. There's a broad reservoir of support for McCain's stance on immigration reform among all Latinos. When it comes to the Democratic side, I think what you'll see is a fierce battle over the next month by the Obama campaign to really step up Latino voter outreach efforts in Texas. And there's a history of Latino voters being swing voters. It's possible that he could make up significant ground against Hillary Clinton, but she's got a long and very significant advantage in that state as is.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. CLEMENS: Appreciate it. Good to be here.

MONTAGNE: Luis Clemens is the editor of Candidato USA, a website on Latino politics. This is NPR News.

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