Obama finding difficulty reaching Hispanics

February 6, 2008 6:27:50 PM PST
Though Barack Obama has attracted many groups to his campaign, he's still struggling to attract Latino voters. Some of the voting patterns in this Democratic primary battle are pretty obvious. Older white women are supporting Hillary Clinton. African-Americans are backing Obama.

And many Latinos, a key group that could go either way based on political history, but for reasons that may be more personal than political, 60 percent, are backing Clinton, which is a big part of her victories in important states such as California, and a big challenge for Obama.

"We are a family-oriented electorate," said Juan Andrade, Hispanic Leadership Council. "And we relate to the Clinton family. We know the president. We've known the senator. They've been in our lives since 1991. We saw Chelsea grow up, and she's a young lady now. We can relate to her."

Andrade and other experts on Latino politics say that Clinton got 60 percent of the Latino vote in the Super Tuesday states because even though she and Obama have similar positions on issues that affect Latinos, those communities know and like the Clintons.

Then thre is Barack Obama, who is something of a stranger.

"He's got a great story to tell. The comparison that Latinos make on this race is based on what an individual, Hillary Clinton, has done, versus what Barack Obama hasn't done yet. He's a great guy but doesn't have the track record," said Andrade.

Obama has been trying to bridge the gap with Latino rallies, endorsements and political ads. And it's beginning to work in some states as it has in Illinois, the only Super Tuesday state where Obama got more than half of the Latino vote, and just barely.

"As Latino voters get to know me, we do better," said Obama.

In Chicago, blacks and Latinos have formed minority coalitions to help elect a lot of politicians and push a variety of issues. But out in the neighborhoods, where lower income blacks and Latinos live side by side, there is still a tension that, according to Andrade, affects voting patterns.

"We are always looking for someone to blame for our plight. And oftentimes it's easy to just blame the other because we are both left out," said Andrade.

The long simmering animosity between some African-Americans and some Latinos in some neighborhoods is not insurmountable according to Andrade, who says the key is for Obama to connect with the residents of those neighborhoods personally and then explain how his programs are good for everyone.

But time is short. States like Texas are big. And if nothing changes and Clinton wins the nomination, Latinos may be remembered as the Achilles' heel of Obama's 2008 presidential campaign.