"It's just relationships," Mr. Mercado says. "That's what it comes down to." The bigger challenges, he said, are earning endorsements from local politicians the candidate hasn't met.
"It's a more detailed sell for those guys," he explains. "It's a harder sell, because they don't know you. They are looking for more concrete things, what you'll do in their community."
Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez is endorsing his fellow Connecticut politician, Senator Dodd, but still gets calls from other Democrats trying to peel him away.
"I get called because I am a Latino and I'm a mayor," says Mr. Perez, proud to see White House contenders seeking Hispanic endorsements. "As our participation grows and as the field narrows, we'll become more crucial for any candidate."
As part of an effort to reach Hispanic voters, Senator Clinton chose Raul Yzaguirre, former president of the National Council of La Raza, as her campaign co-chair.
A Funny Approach
In October, Hispanic comedienne and producer Kiki Melendez had just finished her standup comedy routine at Washington, D.C.'s Warner Theater alongside Cheech Marin and Carlos Mencia, joking, "My butt is like the federal budget – out of control and growing at 8 percent yearly." The crowd roared, but the real surprise came right after the show. Senator Clinton's campaign staff approached Melendez.
"They'd seen me perform and they had seen my effort uniting races through laughter. The campaign liked what I was doing," Ms. Melendez said.
Never much of a political activist, now Ms. Melendez is planning to use her traveling variety show, Hot Tamales Live, as a potential fundraiser for Senator Clinton.
"I don't believe in waiting," she says. "You need to support from the start."
Whether you're a comic or a salesman, every campaign wants you if you can attract a network of followers on Election Day.
Juan Ochoa, CEO of Chicago's Navy Pier, is one of many Hispanic community leaders around the country who is not weighing in publicly on the primary, but that doesn't mean candidates are letting him off the hook.
"They keep calling and they keep revisiting," says Mr. Ochoa, who has seen the contrast between the parties grow this past year. Aside from Mr. Romney [and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani to a lesser extent], Republicans seem to have given up on winning Hispanic primary endorsements.
"They seem to not have the George W. Bush mentality," Mr. Ochoa says. "There is next to no outreach being conducted by comparison."
Waiting it Out
Just months after leading more than a million people to march for U.S. immigration reform, Nativo Lopez, the president of the Mexican American Political Association, is back in his Los Angeles office planning another massive event. It's a first-of-its-kind online convention for supporters to decide who they should endorse for president.
Mr. Lopez says he has a 15,000-name listserv – just the thing campaigns would pay big money to get their hands on. But he is not looking for clout with any major campaign. Mr. Lopez says he will not join Senator Obama or Senator Clinton after their support for the border fence bill, and he hasn't given in to courting from Governor Richardson or Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) either.
"The top tier candidates still have a lot to learn about Latinos," Mr. Lopez says. He is waiting to make up his own mind until his supporters collectively make up theirs.
Florida State Rep. Bob Allen became Senator McCain's Florida campaign co-chair this year, only to get arrested this summer on charges of allegedly soliciting a male police officer posing as a prostitute. It's not the kind of media attention Senator McCain was hoping his local endorser would bring. The fact is endorsements bring baggage to the bandwagon, and it's not always helpful.
Gov. Marc Sanford (R-SC) may be a big endorsement in South Carolina, but locals will tell you he won his own elections by spending big dollars on TV ads. That means he lacked the ground game, the critical volunteer army that he otherwise could put to work rounding up voters. This is how endorsements from labor unions or politicians with deft field campaigns can easily outweigh the nod from a celebrity, which may earn a big headline one day, but do little to get big numbers to turn out when it matters.
The day after the November 2004 election, Governor Richardson shrugged to a group of reporters around his cabinet table, "I did all I could." Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry lost New Mexico by less than 6,000 votes. All of Richardson's campaign-train-riding, cowboy-hat-buying, and Spanish-joke-telling at crowds for Mr. Kerry did little for the New England senator in the southwest, where he lost every swing-state.
Al Gore's coveted endorsement early in the 2004 race of Howard Dean did nothing for the Dean campaign's effort in Iowa; Governor Sanford's endorsement of Senator McCain in 2000 could not overcome the Bush campaign's tough tactics in South Carolina; just as Governor Richardson could not win New Mexico for Mr. Kerry. Any big-name endorser who does not "deliver" [to use the old party boss terminology] can always say, "It's not my name on the ballot."
"Ultimately, endorsements don't really transfer that many votes," Representative Diaz-Balart says, "but they bring a comfort level. They get people to notice."
Neil H. Simon is a journalist and documentary producer in Washington, D.C. He can be found online at www.neilhsimon.com.
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