Clinton

The battle for Hispanics is joined

For more than two years Hispanics in the United States have been subject to the most racist attacks that we've seen in the American public square in many years. It has been a shameful episode in our history, and something I am proud that NDN has been a leader in fighting these past few years.

As Peter Leyden and I wrote recently in our article, The 50 Year Strategy, Hispanics - along with the emerging Millennial generation - are one of two new demographic groups that were not a major part of our 20th century politics, but are poised to reshape politics in the 21st. And I think we will look back on this week as the week in 2008 that Hispanics were transformed from a community villified by many elected leaders and members of the media to one of the most sought after communities in American politics, a condition that I believe will now be the way Hispanics are treated for the remainder of this critical election year.

I offer four observations about this emerging, and historic, battle for the Hispanic community:

The rise of Hispanics is changing the American electoral map - The nationalization of the Presidential race takes off this week with Super Duper Tuesday now just six days away. As the Presidential goes national now, the candidates of both parties will be forced to speak to Hispanics, the fastest growing part of the American electorate, the largest minority group, and a group heavily concentrated in five of the most critical general election swing states in 2008 - AZ, CO, FL, NM and NV (see NDN's recent report Hispanics Rising for more on this). Given the likely 2008 electoral map it is not an overstatement to say that Hispanics may hold the key to the Presidency in 2008.

Seven of the Feb. 5th states have heavily Hispanic populations - AZ, CO, IL, NJ, NM, NY and CA, the big prize. So when you add in the Nevada Democratic Caucus, it is fair to say that never before in American history will Hispanics have had such influence in picking a nominee for President than in 2008.

As of this morning both the Clinton and Obama campaigns have released new Spanish-language ads in Feb. 5th states. Obama and his surrogates are now playing hard in the Southwest this week, having released a new Spanish-language phone banking tool, and are now invoking a storied and revered family in the Hispanic community - the Kennedys - into the campaign to counter the power of the Clinton name. Both parties will debate over the next two nights in Southern California, one of the most heavily Hispanic regions of the country. The debate is sure to provide interesting insights into the state of the immigration debate. (Reminder: Romney and Huckabee have called for the forced removal of the 11-12 million undocumenteds).

This modern approach to the growing Hispanic population was pioneered by Republicans, specificially George W. Bush and his brother Jeb, something they brought to the national Republican Party from Texas and Florida. In the 2004 Presidential campaign, this modern strategy helped the GOP win those five critical general election states - AZ, CO, FL, NM, NV - all won by Clinton in the 1990s - whereas the Kerry campaign simply did not run a serious Hispanic campaign or adequately target these regions. The GOP was working off of a 21st century strategy in this case, the Democrats a 20th century one. And using this modern stategy the GOP doubled their market share with Hispanics in just two elections, and used it to win the Presidency twice.

Interestingly, the positions of the two parties has been largely reversed in recent years. Both Obama and Clinton are now running fully engaged Hispanic campaigns; both support comprehensive immigration reform and have treated the new immigrant population with respect; the Democrats fielded the first serious Presidential candidate of Hispanic descent; they put their Convention in the Southwest, a nod to this new map; and gave a heavily Hispanic state, Nevada, a privileged place in its nominating process; and all Democratic candidates participated in the historic Univision debate in Miami, the first debate in American history conducted largely in Spanish. At a strategic level Democrats have discovered the power of the Hispanic vote and the new map it brings. For them there is no going back.

The Republicans, however, through their recent racist rhetoric and demonization of Hispanic immigrants, have abandoned the modern strategy Bush brought them. Last year they blocked the bi-partisan Senate immigration reform bill, after blocking it in the House in 2006; they were very late to accepting the Univision debate invitation and skipped most of the major non-partisan Hispanic conferences widely attended by the Democrats; their Hispanic immigrant chairman Mel Martinez resigned this year over his Party's approach to Hispanics; and they all but skipped the NV Caucus. This is a very different picture, and one, as Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson has pointed out, that may cost their Party the Presidency in 2008 and beyond.

In the Democratic Primary Clinton is leading with Hispanics, and deservedly so - Despite powerful labor endorsements for Obama in NV, Sen. Clinton won the Hispanic vote there 68-24%. An incredible performance. She also leads in available polls in this community by a similar margin in the upcoming Feb. 5th states. Hillary's strength with Hispanics comes from two sources. First, there is great fondness for the Clintons in the Hispanic community. In the Clinton Presidency, jobs were much more plentiful and there was little national racist anger towards their community. For Hispanics, things were simply much better when Bill Clinton was in charge. Second, Senator Clinton has made speaking to Hispanics a priority in her campaign from day one: Her campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle is Hispanic; she has the most respected Hispanic strategist in the nation, Sergio Bendixen, running her Hispanic campaign; she has received support from most of the major leaders of the Democratic Hispanic establishment, including Senator Bob Menendez, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros; and despite her waffle on drivers licenses, she has held the line on comprehensive immigration reform. I fully expect her to receive a strong majority of the Hispanic vote on Feb 5th - and if it happens, she clearly deserves it.

Obama has been late to mount a credible campaign in the Hispanic community, but is now fully engaged - One of the great strategic mysteries of this incredible campaign has been the Obama campaign's late engagement in this community. Until a few weeks ago it was hard to even determine if Obama had any Hispanic effort at all. But that was yesterday, and today the Obama campaign - perhaps because of their performance in NV - has become fully engaged. They have ads up on the air; they continue to gain key endorsements (Reps. Gutierrez, Becerra, and Linda Sanchez); Obama and his surrogates are spending a lot of time in the Southwest prior to Feb. 5th; and the campaign now has a very potent weapon in the revered Kennedy name, an endorsement that may cut into the huge advantage HRC has with older Hispanics.

One of the most interesting things to watch for on Feb 5th is what happens with younger Hispanics. As we know, Obama has soared with younger voters, and the Hispanic population is very young. These young Hispanics were a critical driver of the large pro-immigrant rallies and demonstrations in the Spring of 2006. There were many stories about students organizing themselves for these rallies through text messaging campaigns on their cell phones. Will this younger Hispanic vote turnout and go Obama? How will the perception of intolerance the Clintons have shown towards African-Americans cut with this group, a generation much less accepting of intolerance of any kind? Will Obama's new and intense Hispanic campaign in the Hispanic community be able to, in just a week, cut into HRC's big lead?

We will find out next Tuesday.

The McCain factor. Of all the candidates the GOP could have nominated, Senator McCain has the greatest capacity to repudiate the recent racism of the GOP and mount a serious campaign in the Hispanic community this fall. He is from the Southwest and has a long history with Hispanics: He was a powerful advocate for immigration, even attaching his name to a bill with the liberal lion Ted Kennedy, a bill that became the framework for all immigration reform legislation these last three years. If he goes on to win the Republican nomination it will do a great deal to hush the more exteme elements of his party that are demonizing immigrants, and it will show that the Republican Party has come to embrace the assimilation of the undocumented population. His position will allow him to run a fully engaged campaign in the Hispanic community, making it likely that we will see more money spent and more attention given to Hispanics in the 2008 general election than ever before in American history. From this critical vantage point I've always believed McCain to be the strongest GOPer the Democrats could face - we already saw the potential impact of McCain's relationship with Hispanics as it was their votes last night that delivered Florida.

But as this post below reflects, what is also true about John McCain is that in 2007, at a critical moment in the debate over the immigration bill that he was the primary author of, he did not stand and fight - he cut and ran. Spooked by his reception in the GOP primary at that time, McCain simply walked away from the Senate immigration debate in 2007. And his abandonment of the bill at that critical juncture was perhaps the single most important factor in the collapse of the Senate bill last year. So while it is true that McCain has a strong history on this issue, and in this community, the story of his advocacy of immigration reform and on behalf of Hispanics is as much one of cowardice as it is courage.

So, whatever the outcome of this coming campaign, let us all mark 2008 as the year Hispanics officially became a potent force in American politics.

Sat Update: New York Magazine's John Heilemann has an excellent new piece on the importance of Hispanics to both the primaries and the general.

Hillary and Florida

Like many I wish the Democratic Party could have found a way to let the votes of the people of Michigan and Florida be counted. Unfortunately the rules were the rules, all the candidates agreed to them, and - for the most part - have stuck by them.

So what exactly is Hillary doing by going to Florida to declare victory, pushing her way into whatever is the big Republican story tonight? Somehow given the events of the last few weeks this move just feels wrongly timed. Too many questions are being raised about the Clinton's integrity, their willingness to do whatever it takes to win, even sacrificing long held values and beliefs in the process.

Having worked on the New Hampshire primary and in the War Room in 1992 for the Clintons, I was present at the creation of the famous "rapid response" campaign style and fierce fighting spirit of the Clinton era. In the very first meeting of the War Room James Carville warned us "that if you don't like to eat sh-- everyday you shouldn't be in politics." So I understand as well as anyone that this is a tough game, not for the faint of heart.

But there is a line in politics where tough and determined becomes craven and narcissistic, where advocacy becomes spin, and where integrity and principle are lost. I am concerned that this Florida gambit by the Clinton campaign is once again putting two of my political heroes too close - or perhaps over - that line. So that even if they win this incredible battle with Barack Obama they will end up doing so in a way that will make it hard for them to bring the Party back together, and to lead the nation to a new and better day.

Wed Update: In Wednesday's Washington Post, Dana Milbank effectively captures the absurdity of the Clinton campaign's declaration of victory last night.

The delegate battle and this phase of the campaign

Adam Nagourney has an excellent look at the delegate battle ahead.  Make sure to check out the charts and graphs. 

I took a look at this new phase of the campaign in two recent posts here and here.  I also have offered some thoughts on Obama, Race and the End of the Southern Strategy here.

The campaigns go national, onward to Nevada and South Carolina

After snowy Iowa and New Hampshire the Presidential campaign has gone national, adding states like Florida, Michigan, Nevada and South Carolina and then the unprecedented Super primary on February 5th.

On the Democratic side we are seeing the first year of a new nominating calendar which was designed to involve two regions - the South and the West - and two groups - African-Americans and Hispanic - to the traditional Iowa and New Hampshire Midwest, Northeast and largely white mix.

The idea of broadening this primary calendar to include these 2 new regions and 2 important communities was something I championed in my race for DNC Chair in 2005. Of all the candidates running I was the only one who was willing to challenge the old system, a system that only once had produced a Democratic candidate who received more than 50 percent of the vote in the general election (Carter 1976), and which was simply not representative of the nation America had become. I was very pleased when the DNC adopted a plan very similar to mine in the spring of 2005, which choose Nevada and South Carolina as the representatives states of these regions.

Embracing these regions and voters is particularly important to Democrats, the much more diverse party of the two political parties. In 2008 minority voters will make up perhaps 25% of all those who vote, and may be as much as 40% of those who vote Democratic in 2008. While it may be another 40 years before the nation becomes majority "minority," the Democratic Party is likely to become a majority minority Party within the next ten years or so as the African-American, Hispanic and Asian populations grow in the US and remain largely Democratic. Given the way the Electoral College has played out in recent elections, the Democrat's new emphasis on Hispanics and the heavily Hispanic states of AZ, CO, FL, NM and NV could alone swing the Presidential race to the Democrats in 2008 (see our recent magazine article "The 50 Year Strategy" for more on this).

As I wrote the other day helping our people embrace this new much more diverse America of the 21st century - and other emerging demographic realities like the rise of Millennials and the movement of the population to the South and West - is one of the modern progressive movements most urgent strategic challenges. By adopting this new map, by the historic diversity of the Presidential field, by the emergence of a Western-based Congressional leadership and the placement of their convention in Denver this year, it is clear that the Democrats are increasingly becoming a party built around the emerging demographic realities of 21st century America.

Vist here for a new NDN Backgrounder on Nevada, Immigration and Hispanics, here for an excellent Dan Balz overview of the upcoming Super Duper Tuesday in the Washington Post today and see below from on the ground reports from NDN staffers Joe Garcia and Travis Valentine from Nevada. This more national orientation should be on full display tonight in the Democratic debate from Las Vegas.

Reflections on a remarkable campaign

It was this week I think that the campaign of 2008 no longer became like some other year, or the candidates like some previous presidential aspirant. After the remarkable comebacks, the rise of Obama and Huckabee, the new and very different calendar, the replacement of burgers with tacos, this race has now officially just come the Presidential campaign of 2008, unique, unlike any other. And it is a quite a campaign.

Building on two previous posts (here and here) I offer my latest take, long, and occassionally cogent:

We are entering a very different stage of the campaign where free media and the reach of the campaign’s supporters will matter much more. There are 3 stages to this year’s primary campaign. Stage 1 is all the states prior to Feb 5th, where voters will see a great deal of candidate time, paid advertising and field-based voter contact. These voters had a great deal of information about the candidates to make up their minds.

Stage 2 will be what amounts to a national primary, where 23 states, some big ones, vote. The campaign will move from a target audience of a million or so voters to a target of tens of millions. Despite the large amounts of money raised by the Democrats, these voters will be voting with much less information. Few will have seen the candidates live, few will have seen a substantial amount of paid media, and the field operations of the campaigns simply cannot touch all these voters in a meaningful way. Voters will be increasingly dependent on the talk in the free media (the press, blogs etc), the debates and contact from trusted friends and colleagues to help them make up their minds. Stage 3 will be the states that come after Super Duper Tuesday, and will take shape only after the enormous vote on Feb 5th.

This means several things. First what happens in Nevada and South Carolina will matter much more than the delegate count. If Obama sweeps in both states he will get a tremendous lift, a lift big enough to potentially give him the nomination. And since he is expected to win in South Carolina, the coming fight for Nevada is going to be very consequential. Which helps explain why the Clinton camp has taken the desperate tact of challenging the Caucus system Nevada has established and approved by the DNC. This move could end up truly blowing up in their faces as it will likely motivate their opponents in Nevada, anger Nevada voters, increasingly turn the labor movement against them and re-evoke the worst of the angry imperial face the Clintons have occasionally shown throughout the campaign.

Second, as the campaign goes national and voters have less information to make their decisions, the vast networks established by Obama and Clinton will become much more central to their campaigns. Much attention has gone to the amount of money raised by the campaigns, but now each of them will be turning to these unprecedented in size networks to engage their friends and colleagues across the country in the campaign. I am already getting in my personal inbox more passionate appeals for and against candidates than any time I can remember. And imagine what will happen if the 1m or so people in Obama’s network all reach out several times to everyone in their own social networks – that 1m could reach 15-20m more. Most studies show that personal contact from a friend, relative or trusted colleague is the most persuasive form of all voter contact. That’s why one data point to track closely in the next few weeks is not only how much money each campaign is raising but how many new people are either giving up or signing up. Which is also why the endorsement of someone like John Kerry, or an organization like Emily’s List, with a very active list of supporters nationally, matters so much more than it used too.

Third, despite’s Barack’s possible sweep of NV and SC, this scenario favors Hillary. Call it the politician we know scenario. Whatever they think of Hillary the voters in the Feb 5th states know Hillary. She has been vetted. She has been around. Her husband has become essentially a running mate, and will allow her campaign to hit twice as many media markets each day. Barack is still unknown to so many, and for all the reasons described above, few voters in the Feb 5th states will be able to directly connect with his charisma and magic as they have in these early states. He has fewer tools to fill in the information gap voters have about him, which why for him winning NV and SC becomes so important. For the Obama world they should be very worried about voters on Feb 5th just deciding to go with the politician they know rather than the one they don’t.

Two new national polls tonight capture both the opportunity and challenge Barack now facing Barack. A Post/ABC Poll has it 42 Clinton, 37 Obama, showing a 25% point gain for Barack over the last few weeks, indicating what could happen if he wins NV and SC. But another poll, a NYTimes/CBS Poll, has it 42 Clinton 27 Obama, largely unchanged since their last poll. This 2nd poll reminds us how hard it is going to be for Barack to fill in the gaps with voters in this coming national primary in just a few weeks time, at the same time the Clinton assault against Barack is growing more pointed, and I think effective.

Hillary’s overall strategy is formidable. The campaign appears to be bearing down on women, Democrats struggling harder to get ahead and Hispanics. Her Hispanic campaign got a boost this week as Sec. Henry Cisneros joined her campaign, and she did very good events Hispanic events in East Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Women were, remarkably, 57 percent of the Democratic vote in both IA and NH. And her laser-like focus on the economy produced for her in New Hampshire as she won this issue – the most important in the campaign today – nine points. Her quick roll out of a credible stimulus plan this week was dexterous, and allows her to maintain the upper hand on this defining issue. In the new Post poll, which had the race close, Clinton leads Obama on the economy by a whopping 13 points.

Obama’s lack of significant engagement on economic issues these past few weeks has to be one of the biggest strategic mysteries of the campaign so far. Obama’s post-partisan positioning, and the absence of a serious campaign in the Hispanic community, will be more challenging for him in the many Feb 5th states with large numbers of Hispanic voters and Democratic-only voters. In the coming days I expect to see Obama toughen up his language on Bush, promote his wife and other female surrogates, emphasize the economy more and significantly ramp up his Hispanic campaign, including letting the very talented Jimmy Learned (his Hispanic media advisor) do his thing.

I thought Senator Clinton was very good on Meet the Press today, and certainly seems to have regained her stride.

The Obama campaign has shown remarkable political strength. Much more than a speech, the Obama campaign now has to be considered one the most impressive Presidential campaigns ever put together. Imagine that this man, African-American, young, unknown to most Americans a year ago, has raised more money and has more donors and more supporters than Hillary Clinton. He won the Iowa Caucus handily, and came within a few thousand votes of also winning New Hampshire, a place steeped in Clinton lore.

The campaign has earned the endorsement of 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry, respected Senator Bill Bradley, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, influential Congressman George Miller and the governors or Senators of the tough, swing states of Arizona, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota and Virginia. In New Hampshire both Democratic members of Congress supported Barack. And just this week he earned the support of a very powerful set of unions in Nevada, a truly impressive political feat.

If Romney beats McCain in Michigan this week, it could slow the McCain momentum, once again exposing the weakness in their field, but also leaving more independents open for Barack in those states where independents can vote on Feb 5th. The strength Barack has shown throughout this campaign – and particularly these tough days after New Hampshire – increasingly leads me to believe this race could decided after Feb 5th, with two very strong, well funded and competent campaigns going at it till the very end.

I don’t think we saw a Bradley-Wilder effect in NH. The thesis simply doesn’t fit the facts. First, Barack’s vote percentage didn’t drop from the polls leading up the vote. Hillary gained. Thus no one lied about supporting Barack. Second, Barack won men 42-30. This means the Bradley-Wilder effect would have only worked with white women not white men. How exactly would that have worked?

A much more plausible explanation is that women surged for Hillary (something aided by the many moms home that day taking care of their kids – many public schools were closed that day to allow the voting to take place). John Judis makes a similar argument here.

And let me join the chorus of voices expressing their disappointment at both the public and quiet whispering campaign of the Clinton world about Obama’s race, family history and religion. For the Clintons, who ran on healing the racial divide in 1992, I hope we hear no more of secular madrassas, adopted Christianity, shuck and jive, urban drug use or the incredible claim that it is Barack’s campaign fanning the racial fires in America today. The Clintons may want to win this thing but if they do it by continuing to stumble all over Barack’s race and heritage, particularly right before we head to states with heavy Hispanic and African-American populations, they may have a very hard time putting their party back together at the end of the day.

Mark Leibovich of the Times has a very good piece today looking at the history making campaigns of both Clinton and Obama, and the legacy of both the women's rights and civil rights movements. And while we have much to be proud of with their candidacies - and the candidacy of Bill Richardson - the difficulty of the conversation about Barack's candidacy and the role of race reminds all of us how just important the Obama campaign is for the much more racially diverse America of the 21st century.

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