Looking at the map, Hispanic advertising by the presidential campaigns seems all wrong. But experts say Hispanic voters in a handful of battleground states may benefit from the apparent misdirection.
So far the largest media markets for Hispanic voters – New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago – have seen virtually no paid advertisements from either the Bush-Cheney '04 or Kerry-Edwards 2004 campaigns. Polls indicate those states will vote solidly Democratic or Republican on Election Day. So both campaigns have concentrated their resources on the few states that could tip the balance in the electoral college. Hispanics figure prominently in five such states: Florida, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado.
"The spending has been almost exclusively in the five top battleground states," says Adam Segal, director of the Hispanic Voter Project at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland. "The Republicans have already spent over $1 million, and they say they'll spend more than in 2000. That would mean more than $2.5 million and potentially a lot more. ... The Kerry campaign has already spent $1 million."
Both campaigns agree that spending has concentrated on battleground states but not only Hispanic ones. "We have started earlier and devoted more resources to the Latino community this year than in 2000," says Sharon Castillo, national Hispanic spokeswoman for Bush-Cheney '04. "We are engaged, not only in Texas and the Southwest and Florida, but also in places like Ohio and Wisconsin and Michigan. These are places where Hispanics don't account for as much of the population, but they can mean the difference between win or lose."
According to spokeswoman Fabiola Rodriguez-Ciampoli, Kerry-Edwards 2004 has advertised on television, radio, and in print in 10 states – the Hispanic battleground states plus Oregon, Washington, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. With the campaign's $1 million ad buy in July, it has "out-spent what Gore-Leiberman spent in 2000," she says.
"Every indication points to record Spanish-language TV ad spending by presidential campaigns in this election," says Mr. Segal. "The fact it's only in a handful of states means that Hispanic voters in those states have power. For Hispanic small-business owners in the Southwest and Florida – especially those who can be influential in different ways than the average voter – it's a great opportunity to exert influence."
One organization working the connection between Hispanic economics and voting power is the New Democrat Network, an outgrowth of the pro-business New Democrat movement. The group says it has spent $2.5 million for television time in the five key Hispanic states, with the goal of spending a total of $5 million before Election Day.
In terms of message, the Bush and Kerry Hispanic ads emphasize the core pitches that appeal to all voters – national security, jobs, education, and health care. They also touch on biographical and character issues. "Our position is that Senator Kerry doesn't understand our [Hispanic] community," says Frank Guerra, CEO of Guerra DeBerry Coody, the San Antonio-based agency handling the Bush Hispanic account. "For the most part he has no record with Hispanics. They just haven't been on his radar screen."
Tactically, the Bush organization plans "to make sure Latinos are playing a role in the campaign," says Ms. Castillo. Special teams of Hispanic grass-roots supporters are organized in 30 states and Puerto Rico. The campaign has bilingual phone centers and a Spanish-language Web site(www.georgewbush.com/espanol) that features its television ads.
But the Bush campaign also grasps the importance of the emerging English-language dominant electorate. "Remember that some Hispanics we reach through Spanish-language media, but we also reach them through general-market media," says Mr. Guerra. "It's everything from prime-time to local news and cable news. That's a key element of reaching the Hispanic voter in 2004 – it's not just Spanish-language, it's also English language."
Guerra DeBerry Coody doesn't handle the campaign's English-language advertising, but Mr. Guerra says he reviews the ads and offers comments. "Obviously, since Latinos are the largest minority group in the United States, they are going to play an important role in this election," Ms. Castillo concludes. "This president is committed to bringing his message of economic prosperity and national security to Latinos."
Although polls from the Pew Hispanic Center and Zogby give Mr. Kerry a 2-to-1 advantage over Mr. Bush among Hispanic voters, the Kerry campaign plans on "asking for every Latino vote out there," says Luis Elizondo-Thomson, director of Hispanic outreach. "We have a much more robust campaign than the Bush campaign – again, because this is about reaching all Latinos."
The July advertizing blitz focused on values that Mr. Kerry shares with Hispanics: "family, faith, and honor," according to Lorena Chambers, CEO of Chambers Lopez Gaitan, the Virginia-based agency handling Hispanic advertising for the campaign.
Going forward, Ms. Chambers plans advertising to address specific issues. Polls show education is the top priority for Hispanic voters this year. "Education is such a broad term – it includes funding for public schools, access to higher education – but it's an issue we plan to address in the next round," she says.
The economy offers another angle for building Kerry support. In August, the campaign published "Oportunidades," a bilingual report on Mr. Kerry's policy plans to help Hispanic entrepreneurs and job-seekers.
"Latino small-business owners are a segment that is growing exponentially. As chair of the small business committee in the Senate, it was one of his [Mr. Kerry's] top priorities, and it's a priority across the country," says Mr. Elizondo-Thomson. He notes that former SBA Administrator Aida Alvarez has campaigned on Mr. Kerry's behalf.
Besides television, the Kerry campaign has used extensive print advertising and what Mr. Elizondo-Thomson calls a "Latinos talking to Latinos" strategy. It includes phone centers staffed by Hispanics and letter-writing campaigns among Hispanics.
But perhaps the campaign's most innovative technique is a five-minute bilingual video for grass-roots organizers to use at events and home meetings. (To view the video, visit the Web at www.johnkerry.com/espanol.) The video features former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros as narrator and other Latino officials who endorse Senator Kerry.
"We recognize that a majority of Latino voters are English-dominant," says Ms. Chambers. "We know there are language differences in our community, but we want every last Hispanic vote."
From now until November 2, both sides expect to go for broke. "In politics, you have to see where you are at the moment," explains Mr. Guerra. "You do long-term planning, but you have to respond to events."
For Mr. Segal, the sheer amount of activity showcases the Hispanic electorate's growing clout. "I'm an advocate for the community benefiting from the electoral process," he says. "A community that ignores one side or another in a close election could lose. A community that allows both candidates to take credit for victory has power. And power is what the Hispanic community needs in Washington."
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