Campaigns vie for Colorado Latino vote |

Campaigns vie for Colorado Latino vote

Ivan Moreno
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” They are the words of the farmworkers’ movement in the ’60s and immigration rallies across the country last year: “Si se puede.”

“Yes we can.”

The slogan is back, used by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama’s campaigns to make their pleas to Colorado’s Hispanic voters.

“Yes we can!” is how Obama ended his speech Wednesday at the University of Denver.

The United Farm Workers, meanwhile ” the group founded by Cesar Chavez ” has endorsed Clinton.

Both campaigns ” as well as GOP candidates Mitt Romney, John McCain and Ron Paul ” actively targeted Hispanic voters before Super Tuesday.

Nearly 12 percent of Colorado’s electorate is Hispanic. But as in other states, getting Hispanics to register and to vote can be a challenge.

According to 2004 Census figures, the most recent available, about 204,000 Colorado Hispanics were registered to vote, out of the approximately 361,000 who could do so. About 165,000 actually voted in 2004, according to the Census.

Bob Duffy, who researches national elections and is chair of Colorado State University’s political science department, said Hispanics can play a crucial role in selecting the next Democratic presidential nominee.

“If you believe the national polls, that Obama is getting the majority of the black vote, and Hillary has been splitting white voters with (John) Edwards, that could mean the Hispanic vote could be the swing vote,” he said. Edwards announced Thursday he was dropping out of the race.

Duffy said Hispanics usually vote for Democrats by a 2-1 ratio nationally but there are exceptions. In this election, Duffy said, the heated debate on immigration, which has been directed mostly at Mexicans, may hurt Republicans.

Republicans’ courting of the Hispanic vote has been “very competitive,” said Gil Cisneros, state vice-chair for McCain.

“Not only in Colorado, but across the country they need the Hispanic community on their side,” said Cisneros, who is also state chairman of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly of Colorado. “They can’t overlook our issues.”

Romney spokeswoman Kristy Campbell said campaign personnel have appeared all year on Spanish-language radio and TV. “Throughout the campaign, outreach to the Hispanic community has been a key component,” she said.

Carl Bruning, state coordinator for the Ron Paul presidential campaign, said the congressman has made his pitch to Hispanics by talking about a “real immigration plan that’s fair to everybody.”

The Clinton campaign has teamed up with the Colorado Hispanic Leadership Council, a community group, to educate people on where to go caucus night in what campaign spokeswoman Jessica Santillo called an “organizing blitz.”

Dozens of people gathered at a Mexican restaurant in Denver to watch Thursday’s debate between Clinton and Obama. Mannie Rodriguez, a Clinton “superdelegate,” said there were 60 such events in New York and probably 100 in Los Angeles to prepare for what he called “Super Latino Tuesday.”

Rodriguez, 58, then mentioned the phrase Obama and his campaign have been using.

“I don’t know what he’s thinking,” Rodriguez said.

“‘Si se puede’ ” That’s ours,” said Gil Reyes, the Adams County assessor.

Ray Rivera, Obama’s state campaign director, said Obama used the phrase during his Illinois senatorial campaign. It’s unclear if it originated as an effort to bring in Hispanic voters, but campaign officials are aware of the meaning and power of the words.

“It’s a slogan that resonates with the Latino community and lines up with our campaign message,” Rivera said. “The phrase is so symbolic of our campaign ” You have to believe in new leadership.”

Federico Pena, Denver’s former mayor and a national campaign chair for Obama, said when he first heard the slogan being used he asked campaign officials if they realized it was what Cesar Chavez used to say.

“And they said, ‘Absolutely,'” he said.

Pena used the slogan in Spanish and English before Obama’s Denver visit. Soon, thousands of people at the event were chanting, “Yes we can!”

Although the Clinton and Obama campaigns said they didn’t run radio or television ads in Spanish here, they did make phone calls to people with Hispanic surnames and canvass Hispanic neighborhoods, sometimes employing elected officials to do the walking.

Rivera said Colorado’s Democratic caucus system lends itself more to face-to-face outreach than does a secret ballot. The Obama and Clinton campaigns say they have bilingual speakers to help.

“We put troops on the ground,” Rivera said. “That’s what makes a difference in the caucus.”

In the end, familiarity may be more than just a catch phrase.

“The response we’ve been getting is that folks don’t know who Barack Obama is,” Rivera said. “It’s not anything to do with Latinos or Obama,” he said, but rather because Obama is new to the national scene.

For his part, Rodriguez noted that Hispanics “have a history with the Clintons.”

“We know who she is and that’s why Latinos are voting for her,” he said.

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