Latinas For McCain, Finding Fault With Obama

The group Latinas for McCain includes a mix of Republicans, Democrats and independents. For many, their choice has more to do with negative things they believe about Sen. Barack Obama, than positive things about Sen. John McCain.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block. So far, polls show that Latino voters are widely leaning toward Barack Obama. That means all the more work for a group called Latinas for McCain.

Earlier today on MORNING EDITION, NPR's David Greene introduced us to some Latina women organizing on McCain's behalf in Nevada. Now we're going to hear more about their political views as part of our series on Latino voters.

As David found, some of them are backing McCain for reasons that have more to do with their feelings about Barack Obama.

DAVID GREENE: Seven members of Latinas for McCain invited me to breakfast at a country club in Las Vegas. There were Republicans and Democrats at the table. These women own businesses or do social work. Yolanda Murro(ph) is a family counselor, and she may never have predicted she'd be in a group called Latinas for McCain.

Yolanda's a Democrat. She supported New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson in the Nevada caucuses in January, but now that Barack Obama appears to be the Democratic nominee, Yolanda's organizing for John McCain. One reason is McCain's age.

Ms. YOLANDA MURRO (Latinas for McCain): Youth versus age, and again, being a Latina, we see age as a plus, not as a minus. You know, when you hear people say, oh, he's too old, he's 70, for us that's a good thing, actually. You learn a lot from elders. You know, you get the experience, you get the wisdom.

GREENE: Yolanda does have disagreements with McCain. She supports abortion rights, and that's one reason she usually votes for Democrats, but not in this presidential race.

Ms. MURRO: McCain has always been middle-of-the-road with that, too, where he's comfortable with women making choices. So I'm okay with that too. So I think that's where the balance lies for me.

GREENE: Yolanda says even though she knows McCain is pro-life, she's comfortable with him, so much so that she'll be helping to get the vote out for McCain this fall.

So will Tibi Ellis. She's the national ambassador for Latinas for McCain. Tibi's a registered Republican. She supported Mitt Romney in the Republican caucuses here in Nevada, and after John McCain essentially wrapped up the nomination, Tibi got on board with the Arizona senator after a few weeks.

But Tibi's support for McCain is also driven by her belief that Barack Obama is unacceptable. For one thing, Tibi says she was bothered when Obama left his Chicago church after the controversy over some of Pastor Jeremiah Wright's sermons. Tibi points to her own Catholic faith and the recent sex-abuse scandals.

Ms. TIBI ELLIS (Latinas for McCain): We have some offenders in our city from the Catholic church. I don't leave my church because a man makes a mistake. I stay true to my faith and my people and my church.

He changed from Muslim to Christianity, and then he renounced his church because he was confronted with conflict. So what is he going to do in the future when he's confronted with conflict?

GREENE: You heard how Tibi said Obama changed from Muslim to Christianity. For the record, Obama spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, but in a secular household. Obama stresses he's a devoted Christian, and his campaign has started an entire Web site to respond to mischaracterizations of his background. But the Obama campaign's challenge is clear. Listen to Teresa Ramirez.

Ms. TERESA RAMIREZ (Latinas for McCain): He's from the Middle East. He's got the background from the Middle East. When he was a little boy, he went to school, it was a Muslim-run school. Those are the reason I don't trust, is because those people, they brainwash the kids when they are little. They are six years old.

GREENE: Now, Obama did not attend a Muslim school, and I pressed Teresa. I said Obama has never practiced in the Muslim faith. Her response?

Ms. RAMIREZ: He dropped his church with the first problem he have, and that prove, though, he's lying when he say he was not a Muslim, because it's already two religions that he dropped. I mean, is what we expect him to do in this country when there be something, something big, though he don't know he act? You know, that is something, though, I cannot trust him. It's one of the reasons I don't believe in him.

GREENE: And in fact many of the reasons these women gave for supporting McCain had more to do with things they believe about Obama. Several of them say they've listened to Obama's calls for change and watched students and young people mobilize around him. They say this reminds them of political movements in Central and South America that ended badly. They point to Fidel Castro in Cuba and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.

Sonja Ravelli(ph) is a Republican. She's originally from Brazil.

Ms. SONJA RAVELLI (Latinas for McCain): I was a student. I've been there. We want all the different things. We don't know why, because we're tired of our parents sometimes or tired of our grandparents, we're tired of the government. And when we want change, we should go to the closet and change our clothes because we don't have a structure to change the country. Go and buy a new suit, a new dress. Change yourself, but leave the country for the people who have a responsibility to make decisions.

GREENE: Sonja and the other women in Latinas for McCain say they'll be offering these views to other women and encouraging them to get to the polls in November. David Greene, NPR News.

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Latinos Crucial To McCain's Western Strategy

Latinas for McCain i i

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 hide caption

itoggle caption 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

A flier promotes a Nevada event sponsored by the group. Courtesy of Tibi Ellis, Latinas for McCain hide caption

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

Four presidential battleground states have sizable Latino populations. Click enlarge for details. Lindsay Mangnum/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption 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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