Clinton courts Latinos

In a conference call with reporters, the Clinton camp looks forward to the Texas primary.

Published February 7, 2008 8:12PM (EST)

Offering to take questions in English or Spanish, top Hillary Clinton campaign advisors held a conference call with reporters on Thursday afternoon to talk about the Latino vote, which Sen. Barack Obama's campaign has struggled to attract. Campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle said that Clinton's campaign "expects to do as well in Texas" as it did in California, where Latino voters went for Clinton more than two to one. Doyle mentioned the endorsements of Hispanic leaders, including Henry Cisneros, the first Latino to serve as the secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, who had supported Bill Richardson before he dropped out of the race. Doyle also challenged Obama's camp to agree to a Feb. 28 debate in Texas hosted by MSNBC.

Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey was on the call to crow about the importance of Latino voters on Super Tuesday: "On that day, we showed that we're not just a category of demographics, but a central part of American democracy." Menendez said that nationally Clinton got 63 percent of the Latino vote, while in key large states such as New Jersey, she garnered support from Latinos almost three to one. In California, young Latinos even helped Clinton carry the youth vote, which before the election was widely believed to favor Obama.

With Mitt Romney now out of the race and Sen. John McCain the presumptive Republican nominee, Menendez suggested that whoever wins the Democratic nomination will have to fight for Latino voters, since McCain's so much more moderate on immigration than Romney. Menendez noted that George W. Bush got 40 percent of the Latino vote in 2004, a record for the Republicans.

Yet, Clinton advisors on the call also argued that Latino voters are not single-issue voters on immigration, and that it's a mistake to treat them as such, especially in a place like Texas where some Hispanic families have lived there for nine generations. Senior Clinton advisor Maria Echaveste contended that the Obama camp had overplayed the issue of whether undocumented workers should be issued driver's licenses in California, trying to drive a wedge between his own position and Clinton's. She suggested that what many Latino voters care more about is "bread and butter" issues, like healthcare, education and the economy. Latinos make up one-third of the 47 million Americans who have no health insurance, Sen. Menendez said.

Whichever candidate they choose, Latinos will be important in the Democratic primary in Texas on March 4. Texas is the biggest remaining primary state, and Latinos make up 36 percent of the population there.

By Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

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