Latinos Crucial To McCain's Western Strategy

Latinas for McCain i i

hide captionMonterey Brookman, Carmen Mahan, Sonia Rivelli and Sue Lowden, chair of the Nevada Republican Party, belong to the group Latinas for McCain.

Courtesy of Tibi Ellis, Latinas for McCain
Latinas for McCain

Monterey Brookman, Carmen Mahan, Sonia Rivelli and Sue Lowden, chair of the Nevada Republican Party, belong to the group Latinas for McCain.

Courtesy of Tibi Ellis, Latinas for McCain
a flyer for Latinas for McCain

hide captionA flier promotes a Nevada event sponsored by the group.

Courtesy of Tibi Ellis, Latinas for McCain
Latinos in battleground states i i

hide captionFour presidential battleground states have sizable Latino populations. Click enlarge for details.

Lindsay Mangnum/NPR
Latinos in battleground states

 

Lindsay Mangnum/NPR

Part of presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain's strategy this fall is going after Latino voters, who are increasing in Western swing states such as New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada.

In Nevada this year, McCain rolled out radio ads in Spanish even before the Democrats had settled on a nominee. The ads focused on shared values and touched on Latinos' economic concerns.

But when it comes to the Latino vote, McCain is managing his expectations. His campaign says he'd be more than satisfied if he could match President Bush's record with Latino voters in 2004. The president carried about 40 percent of the Latino vote, according to exit polls. But individual states can be more important than any national number.

A few weeks ago, McCain himself landed in Nevada — where Latinos make up more than 8 percent of all registered voters — to open his state headquarters outside Las Vegas. He told a room full of volunteers that, though he would give as many speeches as he could, the election in Nevada would come down to what people were doing for him on the ground.

Latinas for McCain

One group planning to put in a lot of hours is Latinas for McCain. Seven of these women spoke about their plans over breakfast at a posh country club with a hazy view of the Vegas Strip in the distance.

Tibi Ellis is the group's national ambassador. She is honest about what she is up against and says Democrats have shown they can register new Latino voters in huge numbers. But Ellis insists the Democrats don't worry her. "Historically, they get them registered but they don't get them out to vote. We get them out to vote," she says.

To get Latinos out to vote, the McCain campaign hopes to talk a lot about family values and issues such as abortion. The pitch will be made on the ground by people such as Teresa Ramirez, a registered Democrat who also attended the breakfast.

"I'm ready to help Mr. McCain with anything I can do with the Spanish community," Ramirez says, who has a salon and day spa where "I have a chance to talk to our clients."

One thing Ramirez will discuss with her clients, she says, is how Illinois Democrat Barack Obama's movement for change scares her. It reminds her of Latin American leaders who called for change, then took their countries down dangerous paths, she says, noting Venezuela and Cuba. "Look what happened with Fidel Castro," she says. People "wanted change — look what change they do. Terrible change."

Seeking Votes In The Desert

An hour's drive west of Vegas, Sal Ledesma is also trying to boost support for McCain.

Ledesma is a longtime Republican and a member of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly. He is not waiting for the McCain campaign or the Republican Party to get him the voting data he needs. Ledesma just went to the library and spent $228 on a CD. It has the names and addresses of everyone in Nye County, which includes the vast stretch of desert where he lives.

With this CD, Ledesma says he is ready to hunt for McCain votes around rural Nevada. This often means driving hours before finding anything close to a town. But rural towns are where Republicans need to win big.

Ledesma says he has his message ready for Latino women who backed New York Sen. Hillary Clinton. He'll tell them that Obama stole their dream of a female president and that McCain shares their commitment to traditional family values and their opposition to abortion.

"I guarantee you, as I go into the communities and give classes to people, I'll make sure they know the difference," he says. "You had your chance and you lost it. You know, do you want to support the candidate who took away your chance at the White House? Or do you want to support a candidate who has more qualifications and supports the views you believe in?"

Ledesma says he can't wait to get out and start knocking on doors.

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