Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Martes Supremo: Latinos And The Primaries

Already Latino voters were a significant factor in the presidential primary in Florida, giving their votes to the winners -- John McCain and Hillary Clinton. Their support in Nevada for Clinton was more ambiguous because of the delegate count. But on "super Tuesday" ("martes supremo" in East L.A.) their impact may be very significant. Over 60% of eligible Latino voters can go to the polls today. And it seems from the campaigning they will be going do so in record numbers. Last year over a million Latino immigrants applied for citizenship, and they made a point to registering to vote in large numbers at the swearing-in ceremony. The impact of that vote is easily deduced from the percentages of the electorate in delegate-rich states -- e.g.,California 23%, New York 12%, Illinois 8% -- they make up. That vote seems to be leaning to Clinton and McCain, but Obama has made his name competitive especially among younger Hispanics. (See NY Times article.)

This is all speculative. But the feeling is that this is a water-shed election for Hispanics. There is no mystery why. The reaction to the Senssenbrenner Bill led to the street demonstrations. Next the failure od comprehensive immigration reform and the rise of anti-immigrant rhetoric gave the initial push to go to the polls. Now the emergence of sympathetic candidates in both primaries has also became a pull to the ballot. Hopes are high that the Latino voice will be heard -- not only on immigration, but also education, health care and jobs.

Some Hispanic activists, however, are wary that the enthusiasm of the primaries and even the general election will be little more than muscle flexing of the Latino voters, but will be followed by paltry results. The Democrats say they will move on immigration in the first year of the new administration. But that will depend on what kind of Congress accompanies the new president into office. Some Democrats, these critics warn, had earlier this year began putting "enforcement" before "a path to citizenship".

The task now is to step up the voter registration -- there are still six million unregistered but eligible Latino voters. The general election will be interesting if McCain is the GOP candidate -- and the GOP right is working desperately to prevent that. A McCain-Clinton-or-Obama race, while more friendly to the immigrant, will nevertheless need hard, firm and quick commitment to relief for the immigrant in 2009.

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