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.

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