LIANE HANSEN, host:
This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen. NPR has been reporting this month on Latino voters, a pivotal sector of the American electorate the presidential candidates are eager to reach. Today NPR's David Folkenflik tells us it's tougher than you think.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK: People keep asking Sergio Bendixen for the silver bullet. He was Hilary Clinton's chief strategist for the Latino vote during her run for the Democratic presidential nomination and when people ask, he just has to laugh.
Mr. SERGIO BENDIXEN (Expert, Hispanic Public Opinion Research): What do you do? It is not like you're going to be able to use what they called "dog whistle advertising," where the signals that you send to Hispanics are only going to be recognized by Hispanics and not by everyone else.
FOLKENFLIK: So you have to break the Latino electorate into groups. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, about 40 percent of Latino voters switch back and forth between media in Spanish and in English. In Spanish, there's no bigger star than Jorge Ramos. He's an anchor for Univision, the country's largest Spanish-language television network.
Mr. JORGE RAMOS (Anchor, Univision): We've heard John McCain and Barack Obama say, Viva Mexico or Viva Cuba or Viva Puerto Rico. That is not enough. They have to address the issues that affect Latinos.
FOLKENFLIK: In the past year Ramos has participated as a questioner in three presidential debates and he received the ultimate media recognition of being satirized on "Saturday Night Live," in this case as a sycophant to Barack Obama.
(Soundbite of "Saturday Night Live")
Unidentified Actor: As you know, Senator, as I explained in the letter that I duct-taped to your front door...
(Soundbite of audience laughter)
FOLKENFLIK: Univision gets monster ratings. Its local affiliates currently have the top-rated evening newscast in Los Angeles and the second-highest rated news show in New York, making Ramos one of the most influential journalists in America.
Mr. RAMOS: When Bob Dole run for president, he decided not to give us an interview at all and he lost the election. Nowadays, it is impossible, and I am not exaggerating, it is impossible for either Barack Obama or John McCain to reach the White House without going through Univision or without going through Spanish-language media.
FOLKENFLIK: And obviously, Barack Obama and John McCain agree. Here's a new McCain radio ad.
(Soundbite of McCain Radio Advertisement)
Unidentified Announcer: (Spanish spoken)
FOLKENFLIK: Don't think these ads are covering the whole Latino electorate or even most of it. They'll miss voters like Tony Rosario(ph), a building superintendent in New York City who came to the mainland from Puerto Rico more than four decades ago. I asked him where he got his news.
Mr. TONY ROSARIO: Bill O'Reilly is one of my favorites, you know. He tells like it is, you know, and I like that and also Gerardo Rivera. You know, I just - I listen to them and I look at their programs.
FOLKENFLIK: Rosario says he also reads the New York Times and the New York Daily News all the time. That makes him one of the majority of American Latinos who get nearly all their news in English. Like Tomas Custer(ph), who reads news online from CNN, the San Francisco Chronicle, wherever.
Mr. TOMAS CUSTER: I do speak Spanish and understand Spanish but I'm much better in English, I have to say that.
FOLKENFLIK: His mom is Mexican-American. His dad, Custer says, a jumble of Scandinavian, French, German and American-Indian.
Mr. CUSTER: Don't stereotype us as only being Spanish speakers and don't stereotype us as only consuming, you know, tacos or whatever. We are a diverse group. If you want my vote, target me in my language that I'm comfortable with, basically.
FOLKENFLIK: Custer is a 39-year-old Web site designer based in Columbia, Missouri, who runs the blog, hispanictips.com, pulling together coverage from news sites all over the countries in the world. A celebrity newsman like Jorge Ramos, he's not.
Mr. CUSTER: I am squeaking by on - yes, on Google ad words and another ad network.
FOLKENFLIK: Custer's site gets maybe 80 to 120,000 unique readers a month, but there's no dominant news outlet targeting English-speaking Latinos and no dominant Web site which helps explain why candidates lavish so much attention on Spanish-language TV and radio stations and Spanish-language papers.
University of Southern California journalism professor, Roberto Suro, was the founding director of the Pew Hispanic Center.
Professor ROBERTO SURO (Journalism, University of Southern California; Founding Director, Pew Hispanic Center): The focus is on Spanish-language media that's easily identifiable, and it becomes sort of a measure of how much effort a candidate is putting into Hispanic voters, but it's not necessarily a meaningful measure of how well we'll do or what the totality of their effort is.
FOLKENFLIK: I asked Sergio Bendixen, that Democratic strategist, about that.
Mr. BENDIXEN: I think that the English-dominant Hispanic is very, very difficult to isolate. I think campaigns need to accept the fact that the only way to reach them is the way that you reach all other voters, through the general media.
FOLKENFLIK: John McCain has just released a new ad directly targeting Latino voters, and he's trying to have it both ways. In one version the narrator speaks in Spanish and in the other, in English. David Folkenflik, NPR News.
HANSEN: This programming note: In August, we'll be broadcasting the series of conversations built around you, our listeners, how your life experiences have shaped your opinions about the intersection of race and politics. We are still taking submissions. Send us text, audio or video. Go to npr.org/soapbox and scroll down to the "race and politics" link. You can see a sample of responses we've received so far.