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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Reporting from Denver - Does Obama Appeal to Minority Voters?


Away from the protests and the speeches, Denver is playing host to hundreds of panel discussions this week. Yesterday afternoon, I stopped by "Deconstructing the Ethnic Vote: Do ethnic voters connect to the Democratic candidate?"

The discussion, which was sponsored by Feet in Two Worlds and the New York Community Media Alliance, bought together four journalists from ethnic media outlets: Lotus Chau, of the New York-based Sing Tao Daily; Jehangir Khattack, a U.S./Pakistani reporter with Defence Journal; Raymond Dean Jones, a political columnist with Denver Urban Spectrum (an African-American Newspaper); and Pilar Marrero, a senior political writer and columnist for La Opinion (An L.A. - based Spanish paper).

Considering the Bronx's demographics, I'll just share what Jones and Marrero had to say.

"I think the Barack Obama campaign started late in trying to reach out to Latinos. And this is trouble now," Marrero said. "They didn't have the people in the campaign to really to know who to talk to, to really know what the message should be. Even as they were getting some endorsements from congressman and Latino leaders, they were still grasping to get their message across. Now that they have the nomination they are better, but I don't think they have the actual expertise that Hillary Clinton did."

Obama is now polling 62 to 63 percent of Latinos, but Marrero says these numbers are lower that what both Clintons managed.

"I think in the Latino community there's still a sense that people don't know him very well," she Marrero. "And there's an issue with race among some Latinos, not a significant amount, but we do know when we go to Latin American countries we see racial hierarchies." (Mount Hope resident Jose Roman previously wrote about these hierarchies in the Monitor. )

Obama, Marrero said, needs to emphasize Hillary Clinton's contributions, to help appease Hispanic women "who were so set on having a woman in the presidency." Even Patty Solis Doyle, Clinton's former campaign manager who is now in the Obama camp, has yet to warm to her new boss. "I recently talked to her, she seemed pained to even be working with Obama," said Marrero.

And he needs to emphasize his immigrant roots, said Marrero, to help connect with Hispanics. "This is one thing that helps him with Latinos... because it shows he understands the immigrant experience," says Marrero. "Because as much as we like to say people go with candidate about the issues, we all know it's more about trust and who you like... the image of the person."

Added Jones, the African-American reporter: "The campaign was actually a bit slow in the black community. [Obama] isn't an African-American in the conventional sense and so there was some suspicion of him. He was a super-intellect, maybe a bit haughty."

"What really opened the door for Barack was Michelle," Jones continued. "People began to see and hear Michelle, to see this beautiful black women who was gifted intellectually herself, worked, was independent, was strong, and who with all of that was believable as a first lady, certainly far exceeding the gifts of the two Bush first ladies." This, Jones said, gave Obama and his message of change credibility. (Michelle spoke at the convention last night. Here's the text of her speech in full. And here's a "behind-the-scenes" video of Michelle released by the campaign yesterday.)

The popularity of the Clintons also hurt Obama's ability to reach blacks in the early stages of his campaign. "Southern blacks were really tied into Clinton," said Jones. "It wasn't that they weren't listening to Barack, it's that there were powerful influences from high up in the black community."

With the nomination, the pendulum has swung back in Obama's favor, with many black superdelegates abandoning Clinton. The black community now has "a great deal of pride" in Obama's achievements, says Jones.

Feel free to add to this discussion in the COMMENTS section.

(Pictured above is John Rudolf (r), of Feet in Two Worlds, who moderated the panel, Pilar Marrero, and Raymond Dean Jones.)


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