It "represents a sharp reversal in his fortunes from the primaries, when Obama lost the Latino vote to Hillary Rodham Clinton by a nearly two-to-one ratio," wrote Mr. Lopez and Susan Minushkin of the Pew Hispanic Center. Mr. Gonzalez of Southwest Voters said much of the swing to Obama since the primaries reflects a Hispanic preference for the Democratic Party.
Not all are moved by such polling results. "I think the polls are premature," said Jacob Monty, managing partner with the Houston law firm Monty Partners, which is recognized as one of the country's fastest-growing Hispanic businesses. "The polls might reflect some traditional bias against Republicans, and there's definitely bias against Republicans, but McCain is different enough that once you start messaging, it's going to be very different," said Mr. Monty, a self-described "stealth Latino without a Hispanic last name."
He said the amount of advertising by Sen. McCain aimed at Hispanics will increase soon, alluding to work already produced by San Antonio advertising executive Leonel Sosa. "I've previewed some of those ads, and they are very, very compelling," Mr. Monty said.
McCain's Values Closer To Hispanics'?
Information on how much Sen. McCain might spend on Hispanic outreach was not available for this report. But Sen. Obama has committed $20 million, said Frank J. Sanchez, who from Tampa serves as national chairman of Hispanic finance for the Obama campaign and is a partner with Florida-based CM Partners. By comparison, President Bush and Democrat John Kerry spent a combined $8.7 million on Hispanic outreach in 2004, according to the Johns Hopkins Hispanic Voter Project.
Like Mr. Monty, Texas MD Alfonso Pino is confident effective messaging can secure necessary gains for Sen. McCain. "The conservative philosophy is so in line with the Hispanic way of thinking," said Dr. Pino, who is CEO of the Dallas health care clinic Rapimed. "Sen. McCain has to show the Hispanic voter how his set of core values are far closer to the traditional, long-held core values of Hispanic voters. I think the Hispanic voters would be horrified if they knew what Sen. Obama actually stands for."
Mr. Gonzalez of Southwest Voters disputes that assertion about Hispanic positions, saying white voters tend to be Republican and that "a wealth of data shows Hispanic opinion is quite different from white opinion." Even where there is similarity in how Hispanics and whites rank issues, there often are major differences in how Hispanic voters and white voters want issues addressed, he said. "White voters (often) view government as the enemy. They look for individual solutions, private-sector solutions, whereas Latinos are for a bigger government role."
Obama Lacks Experience, McCain Seen As "McBush"
Sen. McCain, no doubt, can still appeal to a substantial bloc of Hispanics, Mr. Gonzalez suggested, adding that the Republican does not have to come out on top with Hispanics. "Sen. McCain simply has to lose well among Hispanics. If he gets 35 or 40 percent of the Hispanic vote, he wins the bigger race. It's game over."
Unlikely allies could well boost Sen. McCain's efforts. "I'm seeing a lot of support, even from 'yellow-dog Democrats' who are not comfortable with Obama," said Mr. Monty. Ben Mendez, a Houston engineer and chairman of the National Hispanic Professional Organization, took three weeks off work to campaign for Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primaries, but he supports Sen. McCain today. "Looking at it like a businessman, if I had the largest corporation in the country, I'd want it to be run by someone with experience, and I just don't think Obama has that experience," Mr. Mendez said.
Moctesuma Esparza, CEO of Maya Entertainment in Los Angeles, is not concerned about Sen. Obama's relative lack of experience. "He can lift the United States again to the level of prestige that Americans enjoyed in the past. He can promote prosperity and generate respect and cooperation.
"In Sen. McCain, I certainly see someone who has a good understanding of the Latino community and has been generally supportive of the Latino community. But policies that he is looking to move forward and the ones of the current administration are indistinguishable."
Former Ambassador Romero, who like Esparza is raising funds for Sen. Obama, thinks the record of the current administration dooms Sen. McCain's chances with Hispanics. "There's nothing McCain can do. He's absolutely crippled by the Bush legacy."
True or not, it is on the minds of strategists at both presidential camps.
David Roybal is a journalist, author and consultant in New Mexico.
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