WASHINGTON — Convinced the road to the White House leads through a few swing states with large Hispanic populations, Democrats on Tuesday announced they would spend an unprecedented $20-million to convince Hispanic voters to back Sen. Barack Obama for president.
Although the Democratic National Committee says its Hispanic outreach project will target Hispanics nationwide, the program is aimed mainly at four states where party strategists think a strong Hispanic turnout could mean the difference for victory in November: New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado and Florida.
All four states have large, established communities of eligible Hispanic voters, as well as strong traditions of Hispanic elected and community leaders. Democrats also came within a few points of winning those states in 2004.
"If Latino voters go for Barack Obama — particularly in states like Florida and Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico — we win," said Frank Sanchez of Tampa, the chairman of the Obama campaign's Hispanic National Leadership Council, who flew to Washington for the announcement. "If you move those numbers just a little bit, those states go from red to blue."
The council, which includes political and business leaders from 14 states, is charged with raising much of the $20-million. Sanchez said the money will be used to advertise with Spanish-language TV, radio and newspapers, as well as for precinct-by-precinct outreach, campaign organizing, and paid staff members.
The Democrats plan to install a director of Hispanic outreach in each of the four targeted states; the Florida director should be named next week, Sanchez said.
Hispanic members of Congress will be traveling the country on Obama's behalf, and Democrats also are hosting three-day Hispanic "Camp Obama" events in those states to train supporters in the ways of grass roots activism. The next is scheduled for Orlando Aug. 8-10.
No campaign, Republican or Democratic, has ever committed such a princely sum to Hispanic outreach before. In 2004, the Republicans and Democrats together spent just $8.7-million on advertising with Spanish-language media, according to an analysis by Johns Hopkins University's Hispanic Voter Project.
But McCain strategists insists they aren't worried. They noted that McCain already has launched aggressive Hispanic outreach programs, and has aired several Spanish radio and TV ads, including one touting the military service of Hispanics. McCain also has attended all three of the major national conferences of Hispanic activists and elected leaders this summer.
This month, he traveled to Colombia and Mexico, and has been an outspoken proponent of reforming the U.S. immigration system.
Although he has shifted his emphasis to securing the U.S. borders first, he continues to talk of the need for dealing humanely and practically with the estimated 12-million undocumented workers in the country.
"Unlike Barack Obama, John McCain doesn't need an introduction to the Hispanic community," said Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Miami. "John McCain has been working for more than two decades for the values, principles and issues Latinos cares about. Hispanics will elect the next president of the United States based on who has the best record, experience and is better prepared to move this country forward."
Wes Allison can be reached at email@example.com or (202) 463-0577.