In the halls of Congress and City Halls nationwide, from conference tables to comedy clubs coast-to-coast, the 2008 presidential campaigns have spent the fall gathering hundreds of key Hispanic endorsements.
Complete with staffs specifically tasked with nailing down endorsers, each campaign has spent the year making their pitches, and now it's pay-off time as the first votes will be cast in January.
"We try to grow these coalitions organically," says Mitt Romney's campaign spokesman Alex Burgos. Mr. Romney has secured endorsements from the country's first Republican state party chair, Florida's Al Cardenas, and the first Republican Hispanic Congressman from Texas, Henry Bonilla, among others.
"Governor Romney immediately struck me as what the Republican party sorely needed – a fresh new face with an optimistic outlook," says Mr. Cardenas, who met Mr. Romney in 2005.
For national candidates who fly around parachuting into local political landscapes, these endorsers soften each landing, make each crowd feel like the candidate truly has a local connection, and give validation to unknown contenders.
In the race for Hispanics endorsements, Democrats have a significant edge. And while many local leaders are still being sought for their seal of approval, most of the biggest national names in Hispanic politics are already committed.
Hispanics in Demand
"There's not a lot left out there," says Moses Mercado, who advised Dick Gephardt's presidential run four years ago and is now joining the Sen. Barack Obama campaign.
On the Democratic side, the three Hispanic former cabinet secretaries are all taken. Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM), a former energy secretary, is running himself. Former housing secretary and San Antonio mayor Henry Cisneros is endorsing him; and Former Energy Secretary and Denver Mayor Federico Pena is with Sen. Obama (D-IL).
As for the three Hispanics in the Senate, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) endorsed Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY). Sen. Ken Salazar (D-CO), whose state will host the Democratic National Convention next summer, is yet to endorse; and Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL) has remained neutral throughout his party's primary, though he stepped down as Republican National Committee chairman.
Among big-name officials in California, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and California State Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez have both endorsed Senator Clinton. Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina [California's first-ever Latina state legislator] is backing Governor Richardson.
And while members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus scatter their support across the Democratic field – Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA) supports Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) backs Senator Obama, and Rep. Nydia Velasquez (D-NY) supports Senator Clinton – the caucus chairman, Rep. Joe Baca (D-CA), is uncommitted.
The Big Shots
In a race with nine candidates currently sitting in Congress, it would make sense for endorsements to arise organically between colleagues who have worked together. [Nearly 200 members of Congress have endorsed already, with 68 backing Senator Clinton and 32 backing Mr. Romney].
That's how one of the country's leading Cuban-American politicians, Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL), came to join Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). The two were working together on Senator McCain's immigration reform bill in 2005. After one of several meetings, Representative Diaz-Balart turned to Senator McCain and said, "If you run, you can count on me," Representative Diaz-Balart said of his 2006 endorsement. "It was kind of informal."
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