Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Latino Voters May Decide Senate Race in Colorado

Mark Udall (Pictured left) and Bob Schaffer (right) chose two very different approaches when it came to courting Latino voters in Colorado. It seems that Mark Udall’s approach may have the been the most successful…

The growing influence of Latino voters is visible not only in the Presidential election but in statewide elections as well. In the state of Colorado, Latinos will play a decisive role in electing the next president of the United States. It seems that they are also playing a key role in the highly contested senate race between Bob Schaffer (R-CO) and Mark Udall (D-CO). The latest Senate poll numbers released Tuesday by Quinnipiac University and The Wall Street Journal. The poll shows Democrat Mark Udall with an overall lead of 8 percentage points, but he trails Schaffer among white voters 45 percent to 44 percent. Among Latinos, Udall leads by a gaping 43 points, 64 percent to 21 percent.

That means Latinos and to a lesser extent African-Americans are almost entirely responsible for the Democrat’s edge in the race and that the failure by Schaffer and other Republicans to make inroads among those voters may be an Achilles’ heel for the party in 2008. In April of this year, Bob Schaffer was warned that it would be wise to court the Hispanic community early in order to ensure their support. A group of high-powered Republican Latinos sat down with GOP Senate candidate and pressed him to reach out to the state’s Latino voters. They advised him to hire Latino staffers, offered to introduce him to community leaders and reminded him of the importance of attending the community’s political events, such as the annual Bernie Valdez luncheon.

Schaffer “had a little bit of a problem” with it, said Gil Cisneros, who attended the meeting and is now helping John McCain coordinate a Latino outreach in Colorado. “He said, “Well, I’ve never campaigned like that. I consider myself to be an American first.” Cisneros also suggested Schaffer didn’t like to think about voters based on their racial or ethnic group. In hindsight, the meeting may have turned out to be a key moment in the campaign.

On the other hand Mark Udall understood the importance of the Latino vote early and made sure to increase his visibility in the Latino community. He also has a massive outreach operation that includes dedicated staff, Latino oriented events and a postcard campaign in which Latino supporters write to friends and neighbors to solicit their votes. At a recent campaign event at La Rumba, a downtown Denver salsa club, Udall who is also a five-term congressman wasn’t above dropping a few names. Besides Crisanta Duran, the campaign’s political director and Latino liaison, he also introduced his chief of staff, Alan Salazar, and his press secretary, Tara Trujillo who is perhaps the campaign’s most public face behind Udall.

“Mark is reaching out to Latino voters because he believes it is important that they have a seat at the table — something they haven’t always had under the Republican administration — when it comes to the issues that matter most to them,” said Trujillo, a native of Pueblo.

Nationally, Latino voters typically lean to Democratic candidates by a two to one margin. But in the last eight years, President Bush and some of the GOP’s top strategists have argued that the party’s long-term success depends on changing that. Latino voters appear to be trending even more Democratic in 2008 than they have in the past. In fact Barack Obama leads among Latino voters in Colorado by 68 percent to 26 percent, the Quinnipiac poll showed.

For the Republicans in Colorado, “what you’re dealing with in a close race is not to win the Hispanic vote but to keep from losing it by as large a margin as you might have,” said Norman Provizer, a political-science professor at Metro State College in Denver. “It’s really how well campaigns resonate with the voters, and part of this is how well they resonate with particular minority communities. You’re conveying a message that you’re more open to things, are more sympathetic,” Provizer added. Cisneros, the Latino Republican leader, agreed. “You’ve got to be out there at some of these functions. You’ve got to be out there with the community,” Cisneros said after his earlier meeting with Schaffer. “I don’t think that’s racist. I think that’s practical, everyday politics.”

Bob Schaffer did not heed the warnings of the Republican Latino key players in the state of Colorado, as a result he now faces an increasingly tough race for the Colorado Senate. It will be difficult to predict whether Bob Schaffer will be able to win enough Latino support in the next few weeks to gain an advantage over his Democratic opponent. Bob Schaffer faces an uphill battle during an election year that is already turning out to be difficult for Republicans.

Denver Post