Once Wary, Hispanics Now Warm to Obama

Tim Gaynor, Reuters, Oct. 16, 2008

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When Obama emerged through the Democratic primary process earlier this year, few U.S. Hispanics knew who he was, and those who did, tended to support his principal rival for the party’s presidential nomination, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton.

But as the campaign for the U.S. presidential election on November 4. draws into its final phase, U.S. Latinos are rallying to the Democratic ticket and appear to be warming to the Illinois senator to whom they once gave the cold shoulder.

Hispanics make up 15 percent of the U.S. population and 9 percent of the electorate. A Pew Hispanic Center poll in July found that two thirds of Latino voters supported Obama over his Republican rival John McCain—a greater edge than at any time in the past decade.

Obama also had strong approval of between 63 percent and 55 percent in the key battleground states of Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada, while he was tied with McCain in Florida, according to a study by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials released last week.

Earlier this year, many pundits thought Obama faced an uphill task capturing Hispanics’ support for Clinton—whose ties to Latinos date back her husband President Bill Clinton’s eight years in office. Some thought Obama faced further resistance from the bloc as an African-American candidate.

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In his campaign, McCain has pitched to the conservative values, patriotism and entrepreneurial flair of many Hispanics. The Arizona senator still enjoys loyal support among a dwindling minority nationally, and remains in a statistical dead heat with Obama in Florida, with 38 points and 35 points respectively, NALEO found.

Polls and voters alike say Obama’s lead over McCain has built in recent months as concern over the Republican administration’s handling of the economy and the Iraq war have mounted, while misgivings over GOP hard-liner’ support for a crackdown on illegal immigration have lingered.

A survey put out on Thursday of Latino Protestants, 63 percent of whom voted for Bush in 2004, showed a sharp about face. With three weeks to go to election day, a slim majority of 50.4 percent of those questioned in the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference study said they now favored Obama to 33.6 percent for McCain.

Republican unpopularity aside, analysts say Obama has also succeeded in bonding with Hispanics in his own right, beginning with an appearance he made on the popular syndicated Spanish language radio “Piolin Por la Manana” last year, and his subsequent use of the old Latino workers’ chant of “si se puede!” or “yes you can!” in appearances.

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