Obama Campaign Works To Boost Latino Voter Rolls

Hispanic voters could make the difference in a number of crucial swing states in November's presidential election. During the Democratic primaries, Latinos picked Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama by a margin of nearly 2-to-1. Part of the Obama campaign's strategy is encouraging Latinos to register to vote.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Candidates thinking of their political survival this fall have to consider the senior citizens who depend on Medicare. Many also have to keep in mind a voter group that is big and getting bigger.

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Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): Make no mistake about it. The Latino community holds this election in its hands.

INSKEEP: That's Barack Obama before a recent meeting of a Hispanic group. Obama knows that Latinos have traditionally favored Democrats, but he also knows that Republican John McCain is competing for their votes. And he knows that in Democratic primaries most of the Latino vote did not go for Obama. It went for Hillary Clinton.

For our series on Latino voters, NPR's Ina Jaffe reports on the Obama campaign's plans to court Latinos.

INA JAFFE: In a speech Sunday to the National Council of La Raza, Barack Obama said that in the last presidential election Hispanic voters were the deciding factor in New Mexico, but for Democrats not in a good way.

Senator OBAMA: Forty thousand registered Latino voters in New Mexico didn't turn out on Election Day. Senator Kerry lost that state by fewer than 6,000 votes. Today in 2008, an estimated 170,000 Latinos in New Mexico aren't registered to vote.

JAFFE: And there are similar numbers in other states the Obama campaign is targeting - Florida, Nevada and Colorado.

Ms. ANDREA MERIDA (Obama Volunteer): (Foreign language spoken)

JAFFE: Clipboard in hand, Andrea Merida(ph) was trolling for potential voters in front of the Abanza(ph) Supermarket in a Latino neighborhood in Denver. She's an Obama volunteer.

Ms. MERIDA: This particular demographic has a voice that needs to be heard, and I think that Obama represents their best change to be able to do that.

JAFFE: In the last election Latinos made up 10 percent of Colorado's registered voters. The Obama campaign wants that number to go up. So Andrea Merida adds 22-year-old Arturo Vasquez to the roles.

Mr. ARTURO VASQUEZ: It's important to go out and vote, and I think that's one of the ways that you voice your concerns, and that's how you can make a change.

JAFFE: Signing them up is one thing, getting them to vote, and vote for Obama, is something else. So at the National Council of La Raza meeting in San Diego, the campaign met with dozens of grassroots Latino activists to get them excited about the work that lies ahead.

Mr. TEMO FIGUEROA (Activist): The bottom line is, we do our jobs, what happens? Barack Obama becomes president of the United States. It's that simple. All right?

JAFFE: That's the head of the Obama campaign's outreach to Hispanic voters, Temo Figueroa. He charged around the room revving up the energy, providing a sneak peek at the campaign's strategy. First, holding training sessions around the country for Latino volunteers.

Mr. FIGUEROA: We're doing them in Las Vegas. We're doing them in Albuquerque. We're doing them in Orlando.

JAFFE: The plan is to train 500 Latino organizers over the course of the summer, says Figueroa. And their approach will be different for each Hispanic community.

Mr. FIGUEROA: Doesn't it make sense that Puerto Ricans from Orlando are talking to Puerto Ricans from Orlando? It's not rocket science, right?

JAFFE: That same kind of micro-targeting will apply to advertising as well, says Figueroa in an interview. Commercials will not only be designed for specific communities, there'll be lots of them.

Mr. FIGUEROA: We're also going to be spending more money on paid advertisement in the Latino community than has ever spent in a presidential, by far, probably quadruple the amount that's ever been spent.

JAFFE: Polls now show that Latinos prefer Obama to Republican rival John McCain by a margin of roughly two to one. But McCain has designs on the Latino vote too, as he told a couple of thousand members of the National Council of La Raza one day after Obama's appearance.

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona): My friends, you know me. One of my proudest achievements as a politician is to have won 75 percent of the Hispanic vote in Arizona in my last reelection.

JAFFE: But McCain doesn't need that kind of margin nationally. Four years ago, 40 percent of the Hispanic vote was enough to put President Bush over the top. So the Obama campaign knows that in November winning just a majority won't be enough to lead to victory.

Ina Jaffe, NPR News.

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