Democrats, Republicans Woo Latinos at Conventions

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Los Angeles Mayor, Democratic Convention Chair Antonio Villaraigosa speaks at the Democratic National Convention. (Robyn Beck AFP/Getty Images)

Los Angeles Mayor, Democratic Convention Chair Antonio Villaraigosa speaks at the Democratic National Convention. (Robyn Beck AFP/Getty Images)

KQED’s CY MUSIKER: We’ll join NPR’s coverage of the Democratic National Convention in half an hour, but the convention has already begun, with Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa gaveling the event into session.

Democrats are showcasing lots of Hispanic office holders – Villaraigosa is chairing the platform committee and the convention. It’s a taste of the party’s strategy to win Latino voters for President Obama. Republicans also wooed Hispanics at their convention last week by showcasing GOP office holders.

Louis DeSipio is following the conventions. He’s a professor of Chicano/Latino studies at U.C. Irvine.

The conventions are both featuring Latinos in these primetime speaking slots. But beyond the VIPs, how do the platforms treat issues Latinos care about?

LOUIS DESIPIO: Very differently. The Democrats have traditionally been a lot more sensitive to the issues of most concerned Latinos, and this year’s platform reflects that. So, immigration, for example, is recognized as sort of a central need for the nation. The Republicans, on the other hand, have sort of followed the lead of the party’s primaries, and have a very hard-line position on immigration. Beyond the issue of immigration, the Democrats speak to building a middle class and creating the infrastructure to allow for a middle class. The Republicans speak in some of the same language, but make fewer promises in terms of government programs.

MUSIKER: I believe a lot of Latinos in a recent poll said health care was their number one issue. How do Latinos view Obama’s health care reform act?

DESIPIO: Latinos, despite the fact that they’ll often say in surveys that they’re conservative, they also see government as critical in ensuring that they have the opportunity to succeed. Data show that Latinos are among the most uninsured population in the United States, so not surprisingly, they’re supportive of a program that will give them access to insurance.

MUSIKER: Jobs and unemployment are also topping a lot of lists, especially among Latino voters. How effective is it when Republicans attack President Obama on the nation’s unemployment rate?

DESIPIO: Where the Latino vote will be critically important is in a handful of battle ground states. So Florida, for example, comes to mind. There, there is a greater resonance of Gov. Romney’s message on jobs and the economy among the south Florida Cuban-American constituency. Another state where Latinos might be critically important is New Mexico. There, I think the Obama message around jobs will be better heard by Latinos.

MUSIKER: Yeah, I think most observers think Obama will win California, but can Romney do anything to help Republicans, maybe Legislative candidates, win Latino voters here in California?

DESIPIO: Probably not. His message of self-deportation has been heard pretty loud and clear, and that limits his effectiveness as somebody who can reach out and win Latino vote.

MUSIKER: And just for a second, explain what self-deportation means, at least as Romney has explained it.

DESIPIO: What Gov. Romney, I think, hopes to accomplish is to create an environment where there are so few resources and opportunities for unauthorized immigrants that they, in a sense, deport themselves. They return to their countries of origin. The dilemma with this, of course, is that most unauthorized immigrants in the United States today have been here many, many years, and their lives are really in the United States, not in their countries of origin, and particularly if they have young kids – kids who are United States citizens – the likelihood that the situation could be created that they would be in such bad shape that they would self-deport is pretty low.

MUSIKER: There’s a new tracking poll showing that Mitt Romney got a Latino voter bump after the convention from 26 to 30 percent, and that’s his highest-ever level of Latino support. But I’ve read that the Romney campaign believes it must win 38 percent of the Latino vote for Romney to beat Obama. What are Romney’s chances?

DESIPIO: Well, I’d say his chances of getting 38 percent are virtually none. So what Gov. Romney really needs rather than 38 percent nationally is 40 or 45 percent in New Mexico. An equally strong showing in Nevada, and then splitting the Latino vote in Florida. If he can do all of those things, he’ll be pretty competitive in the Electoral College.

MUSIKER: Thanks so much for talking to us.

DESIPIO: My pleasure.