Opinion: Pandering For Votes Is So Unflattering


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 Maribel La Luz
CTLatinoNews.com Contributor

Pandering is so unflattering. It’s ineffective, inefficient, and expensive. It’s just old news.
For those who grew up in politics- I think I “worked” on my first campaign when I was 8yrs old- we’ve read article after article of the power of the Hispanic vote since the 2000 Census. Always wondering when it would sway a real election.  We witnessed tired effort after tired effort. Poor translations done at the last minute, subpar ads, the scramble for surrogates and Spanish – speaking “moderators” for focus groups. Politicians eating tacos and swigging tequila before a rally, or my personal favorite, the Latin “dance” music that magically appears before every speech to a Latino audience. I still have unpleasant flashbacks of Daddy Yankee standing next to John McCain.
And then it happened. Now granted that election had everything: a black young Senator against the first female candidate, small donations overcoming the Clinton establishment, speeches about race, winking, Twitter, Shepherd Fairey’s “HOPE” you name it.  It was impossible not to care. And Latinos were energized and voted along with everyone else.  It  must be noted however, that Obama won the Hispanic vote – not by accident – but rather by going after it through targeted field ops, culturally appropriate messaging and real surrogates.
The question was could Obama do it again in 2012?  The answer we all know is yes.  And once again, he went after the Latino vote in a methodical, strategic manner.  As a result, 83% of Latino voters  in something called the I-4 corridor in Central Florida turned out to re-elect President Obama.  And for those of us paying attention, we know that in the battleground states of  Florida and Texas, the   Latino turnout  was an indication of future elections that will undoubtedly alter the nation’s political landscape not only of those states, but the nation as well.
But the truth is whether a candidate is red or blue, they need these votes. Votes, like jobs, are hard to come by. In the great State of Connecticut, the Latino demographics may be slightly less than the rest of the country,  but those numbers are growing and they are growing outside of the traditional urban areas.
Certainly, candidates can always scramble at the last minute  and if the votes don’t come in, they can blame the old ‘Latinos don’t vote” line or this community’s historically low turn out.   But as more Latinos understand their electoral power, that message probably should not be  offered.
Lessons can be learned from the campaigns of  such successful candidates as State Senator Darren Soto from Orlando, Florida,  Joaquin and Julian Castro  from San Antonio, Senator Harry Reid in Nevada and right here in Connecticut from newly elected Mayor Erin Stewart in New Britain.  What do they all have in common? Let’s give it the appropriate hashtag; #WINNING.
Regarding Mayor Stewart, that’s an interesting case study. What we do know is that she won 12 out of 17 voting districts where 40% of voters are Latino. Hmmm.   Stewart assembled a cross party slate, developed her campaign strategy to address her diverse constituency in a city of 71,000 where the party affiliation of city’s registered voters is as follows: Democrats – 13,504, GOP – 2,800 and Unaffiliated  8,591.   Doesn’t sound like she used the usual campaign approach to win.
So, I would recommend figuring out a Latino voter mobilization strategy early, determining culturally appropriate targeted messaging and implementing a precinct driven ground game that goes beyond the usual urban centers.
Comprehensive immigration is inevitable. 1 in every 5 under the age of 18 are  Latino.  Coordinated voter registration efforts are underway.
Candidates just must  decide whether they  want to be on the winning team or pandering.  We’ll be waiting for you.

Maribel LaLuz is Director of Communications and New Media for the City of Hartford.  She has also worked on numerous congressional campaigns,  and is the former Vice President of Communications for the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.   She represents CTLatinoNews.com on the Sunday morning political talk show, CT Capitol Report on Fox TV.