Latino Voters – How Candidates Are Courting Them


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Bill Sarno

The current candidates for governor and for Congress in Connecticut are aware, almost universally, that the turnout and choices made by the state’s Hispanic voters could decide some of their races in November. However, these politicians vary when it comes to how they are integrating Latinos into their campaign staffs or how they are trying to reach out to Latino voters.
In the governor’s race in particular, the state’s Hispanic voters may decide the winner. Malloy barely edged out Foley four years ago with the late vote tally from heavily Hispanic Bridgeport making the difference.  Since that election, Latino registration has increased statewide by more than 20,000 and, according to the Secretary of State’s office, those listing themselves as Democrats outnumber Republicans almost seven to one and exceed both unaffiliated and Republicans combined.
Despite the numbers and election history statewide, neither party had a firm answer as to what roles Hispanics were playing on their campaign staffs.  The Republicans seem to lean toward utilizing their party’s Hispanic officeholders and candidates for this purpose, while the Democrats emphasized their records and platforms to court the Latino vote.
The Democrats, who hold the governor’s office and all five congressional seats, said their record of helping Latinos differs vastly from Republicans, particularly gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley.  There is a “contrast of agendas,” said Devon Puglia, a state Democratic Party spokesman.
Repeated inquiries regarding the roles played by Latinos in the campaigns drew no response from the campaign staffs of Malloy, Foley and Mark Greenberg, the Republican candidate in the Fifth Congressional district, while others were vague in specifics.
Independent candidate for Governor, Joe Visconti’s campaign did respond, saying it  had some Latino volunteers. Jeff Weiss, a campaign staffer and webmaster,  also said, “None are paid positions because we have no paid positions.”
A Visconti volunteer  is helping translate the candidate’s website into Spanish. “I don’t believe any other gubernatorial candidate has a Spanish language site at this time,” Weiss said at the end of September.
As for paid campaign staffers, was able to determine that paid staffers may be on board in two congressional districts, namely the Fourth and Fifth, where Hispanic participation at the polls could greatly influence the outcome.
In the Fourth Congressional  District, which covers southwest Connecticut, outreach to Latino voters appears to be strong. Dan Debicella, the Republican challenger in the district reported having Latinos on his campaign team;  the one role specifically mentioned is that of Carlos Rivera of Stamford as outreach director.
An effort to obtain similar information about his opponent, Rep. Jim Himes (D-4)  was unsuccessful. However, Himes speaks Spanish fluently, was born in Peru to American parents and is a frequent visitor to Spanish-language radio. Still, Himes only won by six percentage points in 2012 and was bolstered by a late race visit to Bridgeport by President Obama.
Himes’ district includes Bridgeport, which has the largest number of Hispanic voters in the state, 21,000, as well as Norwalk and Stamford, which combined, have another estimated  8,000 registered voters.
Debicella is also being helped by Ava E. Maldonado of Stamford, who is running for state Senate from District 27, said campaign manager John Puskar.  Another plus for Debicella during his forays into Latino areas is his wife, Alexandra, who grew up in Argentina and speaks fluent Spanish, Puskar said.
Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-5)
In the Fifth congressional district, which stretches from central Connecticut to the Northwest corner, Rep. Elizabeth Esty’s (D) campaign spokesperson said two members of the campaign staff, both Dominicans, are working in outreach.
Esty’s district  includes four major centers of Hispanic voters: Waterbury, New Britain, Meriden and Danbury. The campaign spokesperson indicated Esty has appeared on Spanish language radio shows and added “We also have produced newsletters in Spanish.”
Esty recently also brought Rep. Loretta Sanchez, a 17-year veteran of California, to speak to some of her Meriden constituents in Spanish.  Esty’s victory in 2012  was due in part to the turnout of minority voters in urban areas being enough to overcome the strength of her opponent, Andrew Roraback, in the district’s rural and suburban towns.
This year, Mark Greenberg, a Litchfield businessman, is the Republican candidate and is seeking to attract Latino voters by focusing on jobs and the economy. He also labeled Esty as an “elitist” and said she is treating Latinos as “political pawns” in a campaign statement reacting to the Sanchez visit.
Democrats, such as Esty and Himes have tended to focus on closing the so-called education gap and protecting Medicare and Social Security from Republican budget cuts as important concerns, not only of Hispanics, but of all their constituents. Education and child care are important “whether you live in Meriden or live in Roxbury,” said Esty.
What is important in meeting with Latinos, she said during her visit to a Hispanic community center on the north side of Meriden, is to encourage them to vote.  “We need their participation if we are to continue fighting for their concerns in Washington.”
In the 3rd District, James Brown, a Republican who is waging an uphill battle against longtime incumbent Democrat Rosa DeLauro of New Haven, has only one paid staffer, who is not Hispanic. He is not singling out any group of voters, said campaign manager Troy Meeker. “He believes people are people.”
While Hispanics now represent  more than 14 percent of the state’s population, according to the Secretary of State’s office, the number has jumped significantly in recent years, but still only comprises 8 percent of the electorate, or 157,000 voters. A major obstacle in correctly assessing Latino voter turnout, is that the only official source is the Secretary of State’s office, which only determines the number of Hispanic voters by surnames.  This leaves out Latinos who may not have a surname that is  identifiable as ‘Hispanic’.
For the same reason, the Connecticut-based Quinnipiac Poll could not provide data on Hispanic voters in the state. “The sample size of the Hispanic subgroup in our polls is too small to accurately analyze,” said Doug Schwartz, poll director.
On utilizing media to reach this electorate, there is also no evidence as of Sept. 30th, although election day is only four weeks away, that once again candidates are not investing in campaign ads in Spanish language media, according to Peter Olsen-Phillips of Sunlight Foundation, a Washington, D.C. campaign watchdog group, who said, “I do not see any record of political ad buys at Spanish language broadcast stations in Connecticut.”  Pablo Soto, a Republican central committeeman, said he was unaware of any ads targeting Latinos but “that is not to say it would not be done as the election season moves forward.”  Soto is also is running for a state House seat in District 83 (Meriden).
Like Esty, some candidates have used Spanish language radio programs at no cost to address Spanish speaking Latino voters.  For instance, Governor Dannel Malloy reportedly has been interviewed via a translator on several Spanish language stations as governor, with WPRX 1120 the most frequent host.
The station’s owner, Oscar Nieves said to date he has not received ads from the governor or  congressional candidates from either political party, although millions are being spent on media. Nieves, who says he  has gladly given numerous candidates a forum as a public service, said, “We have contacted all the campaigns in both parties.  I have even spoken to Democratic  Party Chair Nancy DiNardo, as well as Esty and the other candidates directly, so we are hopeful, but it’s  tough to see their ads everywhere else.”  He added, ” My feeling is that some are waiting for the last moment or just don’t care.  It tells me a lot.”