Candidates value Latino vote

February 6, 2008 8:53:31 PM PST
The candidates certainly recognized the importance of the Latino vote. Both Clinton and Obama courted them fiercely the past couple of weeks.

But Obama may have an historical disadvantage among Hispanic voters that could continue to plague his campaign.

A Hillary Clinton campaign worker said a sleeping giant has woken up. Exit polls show Latino voters made up 29 percent of the electorate in California, that's up 13 points from 2004.

And they overwhelming chose Clinton over Barack Obama by 40 points. She got nearly seven out of ten Latino votes, while he got three out of ten.

"We think she already knows a lot from her husband. She learned a lot from him," said Clinton supporter Eulogia Villegas.

And the Bill factor means a lot to California Latinos.

"It's not quite Kennedy-esque. But the Clinton name is kind of gold because during Bill Clinton's 8 years in the White House, he visited California more than he did any other state, showered resources on the state, and many of those resources impacted inner-city communities, including Latino communities," said Jamie Regalado, Ph.D., from Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs.

Clearly, Obama tried to peel away Clinton's hold on Latino voters by supporting drivers' licenses for illegal immigrants and advertising in Spanish-language media.

But that didn't persuade many to switch.

A contributing factor may be the widely-held notion Latinos are reluctant to support a Black candidate because of racial tensions they may feel from the African-American community.

"I tend to think there's a feeling on the part of some Black people of being displaced by the recent arrival of the large number of immigrants from Mexico," said Prof. Clarence Walker from U.C. Davis History Department.

Professor Walker also thinks maybe Obama strategists counted too much on people of color sticking together.

"It may be a failure of Obama campaign, an assumption on their part, to count these people to vote automatically for him because of is of color or minority status," said Walker.