Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Texas Hispanic Vote Bellwether for General Election

With Obama starting to overtake Hillary in a Texas primary still too close to call, both candidates are courting Hispanics. Where their votes go on Tuesday may say a lot about the Hispanic electorate in November.

In Texas, the Hispanic vote is keeping Hillary from being blown out. A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey released Monday found Obama up 50 percent to 46 percent among all likely Democratic voters; the previous Monday Clinton was up 50 percent to 48. Statistically, too close to call

But it would be an Obama rout if not for Clinton’s bid edge among Hispanic voters, about a quarter of Texas’ eligible voters.

CNN polling director Keating Holland said the senator from New York “may win roughly two-thirds of the Latino vote,” and a Texas A&M/Latino Decisions Poll released Tuesday had her up 62 percent to 22 percent among Hispanic voters, with 13 percent undecided.

Still, the momentum is Obama’s. There is lots of talk about a generational split among Texas Hispanic Democrats, with the older establishment sticking with Hillary after years of loyalty to the Clintons, and the younger generation infatuated with Obama. With a disproportionately young Hispanic electorate (31 percent of Hispanic eligible voters in Texas are ages 18 to 29, compared to 24 percent of all Texas eligible voters, according to a Pew Hispanic Center study released last week), it could spell trouble for Clinton

And, maybe, for John McCain

Say Clinton holds on to a 30-point lead among Texas Hispanics, wins the primary and eventually the nomination. She then starts off against John McCain with the usual advantages — but little more than the usual advantages — that Democrats carry into battle with Republicans for the Latino vote

Yes, the Clinton name will still carry weight. But McCain is the only Republican who ran for president with any possibility of getting close to 40 percent of the Hispanic vote, a number that former Bush operative Matt Dowd has famously said is essential for a Republican to win the White House.

Whether McCain comes close to that is up to him. Clinton has pretty much hit her peak among Hispanic voters — in November, she will not improve on the 73 percent she won in the primary in her own state of New York. But McCain can whittle away at her lead.

The Arizona Senator was the only one in the pack of Republican candidates who unambiguously said No to the nativist fantasy of deporting 12 million illegal immigrants; and he sponsored the comprehensive immigration reform bill derailed by his own party.

Of course, that won him the enmity of the Republican hard right, a badge of honor to anyone except, I guess, somebody running for the presidency as the GOP’s candidate. That is why McCain has now shifted positions to say comprehensive reform should only come after securing the border.

Which is fine. Even if you believe a secure border is part of comprehensive immigration reform and not something separate, let the man say what he thinks is necessary for him to say about that. As long as McCain’s subtle shuffle does not turn into outright pandering to hard line conservatives, he has a shot at giving Clinton a run for the Hispanic vote. Remember, no Republican expects to win it — high thirties is the good enough.

There is another scenario, however: Clintonite fears about young Hispanic voters turn out to be true, Obama sweeps to victory in Texas with about half the Hispanic vote, and then goes into the general election riding a high crest of enthusiasm among all voters, even Hispanics who were once Hillary’s safe bet.

And in that case what McCain does in the primary, and even memories of McCain standing up to the nativists at the risk of destroying his own candidacy, will be swamped by a surge of Obama fervor that will continue to feed on itself, growing bigger and bigger

If Obama can cut significantly into Clinton’s lead among Texas Hispanics, it will spark off something across the nation. Everywhere with a large Hispanic electorate (except in South Florida, where Obama won few fans with his eagerness to meet unconditionally with Raúl Castro) Obama can wrack up big margins against John McCain, the kind he is not getting now against Clinton
Bigger, actually, than Clinton herself can ever wrack up against McCain.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Wrong Time to Lift The Embargo

In the wake of Fidel Castro’s resignation, it is not difficult to find pundits dismissing the Cuban embargo as a Cold War relic supported only by a handful of old men in Little Havana, “hard-liners” who have somehow taken control of U.S. foreign policy between domino games at the nursing home.

Pundits and congressmen, I should say.

“I wonder what twisted new rationale they will create to continue their failed policies,” says Jose Serrano, the South Bronx Democrat, about those crotchety right-wing viejos down in Miami. His press release actually compliments the Cuban dictator: “This important figure defies the attempts of his critics to paint him simply as a power-hungry authoritarian. Instead, it proves Castro sees clearly the long-term interests of the Cuban people.”

Yes, a member of the United States Congress, explicitly and without shame, defending an internationally condemned violator of human rights. And Serrano is not even Republican.

Serrano was one of more than 100 congressional representatives who sent a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice calling for a “complete review of U.S. policy” because the current policy “leaves us without influence at this critical moment.”

You see, Castro’s resignation brings the possibility of “a new chapter,” Arizona Republican Jeff Flake, another signatory, tells us. “Whether that new chapter will be open, however, largely depends on a new approach to Cuba by the U.S. government,” he says.

So don’t fault Cuba’s 49-year-old, one-party, Marxist-Leninist, Maximum-Leader system for failing to embrace democracy. Blame America first.

And Flake is not even a Democrat.

Actually, what would really really leave the United States without influence in Cuba is to unilaterally lift the embargo without preconditions, as some have urged.

That “some” includes everybody in Havana’s ruling elite.

Nobody in those circles looks like a Cuban Gorbachev or, to be more culturally precise, nobody looks like an Adolfo Suarez. Suarez was the apparatchik in Francisco Franco’s regime who became president of Spain’s government after Franco’s death, and led his country to the democracy and prosperity it now enjoys.

But among top apparatchiks in Castro’s regime, there is no hint that anyone desires anything beyond cosmetic changes. So in the next few months, you might see a loosening of economic restrictions. You might see some political prisoners released. You might see fewer arrests of dissidents.

It will all be done to give the impression that things have changed, so that Havana can claim the system is moving toward democracy and lend legitimacy to calls for the end of the embargo.
But the system will continue to deny basic liberties: Opposition political parties still will be banned, a free media and a judiciary independent of government still will not exist, political prisoners will be released only if they agree to leave the country, dissidents will be detained and harassed instead of officially arrested, as human-rights activists are already noting.

There would be no better gift for an essentially unchanged Cuban regime than re-established trade with the United States or (their fondest hope) a friendly normalization of diplomatic relations. The Havana leadership hopes that with U.S. backing, the system can perpetuate itself for a generation. And that is why the embargo cannot be reduced to an outdated policy favored by a couple of old guys in Miami. The embargo cannot bring democracy to Cuba, but lifting it at the wrong time can keep democracy out.

Still, Cuba is in a moment of uncertainty, or at least less certainty than there was before Fidel Castro became ill. Should U.S. policy just proceed unaltered as if nothing had happened?

There have been calls for an incremental lifting of the embargo, calibrated on what actions Havana takes. “If the Cuban leadership begins opening Cuba to meaningful democratic change, the United States must be prepared to begin taking steps to normalize relations and to ease the embargo of the last five decades,” went Barack Obama’s statement on Castro’s resignation.

Nothing new there. The embargo has always rested on the premise that if Havana moves toward democracy, Washington lifts the embargo.

Which is all that Miami is saying anyway.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Not Che Obama

Got an email Tuesday urging me to check out the talk on the Internet about a Che Guevara image hanging on the wall in a Barack Obama campaign office.

So I plunged into the blogosphere to find out what it was all about

I am now back from the trip, dripping with mud left and right.

It started with a television station in Houston that ran a story showing a local Obama volunteer office with a Cuban flag adorned with the famous image of Che, long hair flowing beneath the beret with the star, looking off dreamily into some distant epic

He was probably contemplating his next murder. After all, he once said it was imperative for his followers to become “an effective, violent, selective, cold killing machine.” Those followers needed only to follow his example. In Cuba, Guevara was in charge of sham trials that sentenced hundreds to execution by firing squad. After that he rabble-roused in Congo and Bolivia, splashing the blood around in a doomed effort to turn those countries into poorer versions of North Korea — the society Guevara considered such an ideal model he wanted even Castro’s Cuba to emulate it

Worse, it apparently wasn’t a case of naïve Che chic from some kid Obama fan who knows nothing about the man but thinks he looks cool on a t-shirt and was some sort of rebel, or something. The middle aged Obama supporter who hung the flag was interviewed later by the same television station and said she was Cuban-American. It is pretty much guaranteed that when a politically active adult of Cuban origin hangs a Guevara picture, it’s not a know-nothing fashion statement but a consciously pro-Castro political testimonial

She wouldn’t own up to it, telling the television reporter several times that she did not have time to talk about it.

Plenty of people, though, found time to blog about it. On the right, there’s an effort to make Che Obama go viral, into a new Swift Boat.
“Obama won't wear flag pin but displays Cuban Flag in his Houston Office,” screams, which describes itself as “devoted to the thoughtful exploration of issues.”
On Michelle Malkin’s right wing blog, someone wrote, “I bet BO places his hand over his heart when the Cuban national anthem is played.

Over at, an anti-Castro blog with which I am often in agreement, there are no less than two photoshopped morphs of Che and Obama.

Journalistically, it’s all reprehensible. And as to promoting democracy in Cuba, it’s counterproductive.

Obama had nothing, zero, to do with the Guevara flag. The campaign ordered it taken down and issued a statement on its website that said, “The office featured in this video is funded by volunteers of the Obama Campaign and is not an official headquarters for his campaign.”

I called Obama’s press people. Was there concern that anti-Castro Cuban-American voters considering support for Obama in the fall will be turned off? (they exist: Miami Democratic Congressional candidates Raul Martínez and Joe García are mounting serious challenges for the first time to the incumbent Republicans, the Díaz-Balart brothers).

The response of Obama’s campaign was to add one sentence to the previous official statement about the volunteer office: “Senator Obama has made clear that we will maintain the embargo as a way to leverage meaningful democratic change in Cuba.”

He first wrote about that in an op-ed some months ago for the Miami Herald. Obama said he would use the trade embargo to “bargain on behalf of democracy with a post-Fidel government” but also said he would lift restrictions now in place and “grant Cuban Americans unrestricted rights to visit family and send remittances to the island.”

Would that make Cubans “less dependent on the Castro regime” and more able to “advance peaceful political and economic reform” as Obama claims, or simply enrichen the dictatorship, like critics insist?

It’s a legitimately debatable issue. What’s not justifiable is to paint Obama as an admirer of Che and Fidel. That makes anti-Castro activists look like right-wing slime merchants — thereby giving ammunition to the left-wing slime merchants who want the embargo lifted because they truly are admirers of Che and Fidel

Already, the Castro-friendly blogosphere is reviving the usual canards. “It’s just the embittered elites that want to keep the embargo going in the hope that a broke Cuba would give them back their estates,” one lefty wrote

So ludicrous, it’s beneath a response.
Other than saying that a complete unilateral lifting of the embargo — treating Cuba like Belgium — would give a dying dictatorship the strength it needs to keep choking the Cuban people

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Obama’s Hispanic Problem

The numbers are in, and the way things look, Barack Obama has about as much chance of winning the Hispanic vote as Pat Buchanan.

Hillary Clinton’s Latino advantage on Super Tuesday really was like the gap you usually see separating Democrats from Republicans in places like California, the Southwest and the Northeast:

· In California, she beat Obama 69 percent to 29 percent among Hispanic voters, while just managing to squeak by among non-Hispanic whites, 45 percent to 42 percent. Obama won 78 percent of the black vote, which means Clinton’s 10-point edge overall in this state came thanks to Hispanics and Asians — she won three-quarters of the latter’s vote.
· Among Arizona’s Hispanics, she won 53 percent to 38 percent; among New Jersey’s, 66 percent to 31 percent. In both cases, her advantage was a couple of points higher than among non-Hispanic whites.
· In New Mexico, Clinton won the Hispanic vote 56 percent to 36 percent, but lost 55 percent to 39 percent among white non-Hispanic voters.
· Clinton also took the Hispanic vote in her home state of New York, 73 percent to 26 percent. That is substantially wider than her 59 percent to 37 percent margin among non-Hispanic whites.
· Obama barely won the Hispanic vote in his own home state of Illinois, 50 percent to 49 percent. In her rival’s turf, Clinton actually won among Hispanics who self-identified as Democrats (51 percent to 48 percent) and among Hispanic women (58 percent to 42 percent).
· A few days ago, she also won in the other state with a large Hispanic population that has had a primary so far, Florida, by 59 percent to 30 percent (Edwards, still in the race then, had 8 percent).

What explains such a poor performance by such a dynamic candidate?

For one thing, the race factor. Conventional wisdom has it that blacks and Hispanics are “minorities” together, supposedly allies in the struggle against racist whites. But it’s not that simple. In Florida, blacks and Hispanics are at odds (many Cubans, in particular, believe blacks tend to be uncritical of Fidel Castro). In places like California or Texas, there is more rivalry than alliance. And even in New York, where blacks and Puerto Ricans have for decades indeed been allies, Clinton won the Hispanic vote. No one familiar with Hispanic communities can honestly discount a 2006 study by Duke University that found Hispanics “bring negative stereotypes about black Americans to the U.S. when they immigrate.”

Still, race is not the entire reason for Obama’s poor performance — those stereotypes ease with the next, Americanized generation, which includes a sizable number of the voters. Another factor is that Hillary is the beneficiary of her husband’s popularity among Hispanics, at least the non-Cuban kind. Bill Clinton has the simpatico factor going for him, just like the current president did in 2004. For Democrat Bill in 1996, that meant nearly 80 percent of the Hispanic vote, about 10 points higher than the previous Democratic candidate, Mike Dukakis. For Republican George, simpatico meant some 40 percent — 20 points higher than the previous Republican, Bob Dole.

And for Hillary, simpatico meant the big margins of Tuesday. To be sure, she herself is not particularly famous for simpatico-ness, but people remember her husband and have seen her work assiduously to court Hispanic pols who are part of the political machines loyal to Bill.

Which is another reason why she did well. Popular Hispanic leaders, including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, backed Bill then and back Hillary now. The Clintons have the Hispanic political establishment on their side.

The next big prizes are Texas and Ohio on March 4. If somebody can win both, that person becomes the prohibitive favorite to win the nomination. And in Texas, Clinton is the prohibitive favorite due to a large lead among Hispanics.

Among the few bright lights for Obama is that Hispanics who consider themselves independent are more likely to vote for him. In California, he won this group, 51 percent to 43 percent. But they made up just 3 percent of the voters in the Democratic primary, and in other states they barely registered in exit polls.

The fact that few Hispanics ever voted for Pat Buchanan means nothing — he did not have a chance at the presidency no matter what. But the fact that few Hispanics are Barack Obama voters means his much more credible candidacy is likely doomed.