It's not every day that a famed political operative like John Podesta sends me an email inviting me to a conference call for "community leaders like you." But that happened as Hillary Clinton announced in a video that she is running for the Democratic nomination for President in 2016.
Clinton's announcement is wedged between Republican presidential wannabes Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio who is expected to announce Monday evening. Interestingly, I haven't heard a peep from the GOP which is not new since this was my experience while covering the 2012 election where I developed an obsession with Latino voter participation.
Not a party hack or shill, my writing and reporting is independent which is at the heart of this post. Not meant to plug any candidate, I want to focus on a critical part of the campaign to reach and engage Latino voters. As a growing segment of the electorate, securing this group's vote is mandatory to winning the White House, according to every statistician and pollster of repute.
But to win Latinos' vote, candidates and parties must answer these four questions now, when campaign teams are still forming:
- What does my inner circle look like? Do Latinos occupy the tippy top positions? Not only can these staffers and advisors give vital campaign strategy advice but insight into the most effective ways to reach and engage Hispanic voters.
- Is Hispanic voter outreach and engagement included at the very beginning, you know, when staffers are meeting in Brooklyn coffee shops? Speaking with campaign veterans from Senate and presidential campaigns, Latino voter outreach becomes a priority in the last few months, when campaigns are in the stage of: "Oh f*ck, we're in a dead heat. ¡We need every voto we can get!" This is crucial because most voters are "high touch" meaning, you need to make several contacts with them over time to earn their vote. Hispanics are no different.
- When looking at a total campaign media budget, what percentage is devoted to Hispanic outreach? This is defined as Spanish-language media. Once again, campaign veterans tell me that in a state like California where the media buys total millions, the ad and placement budget is a sliver of what campaigns spend on mainstream media, despite having the largest Hispanic population in the country. Note: while not the only way to reach Latino voters, Spanish-language media is a very powerful and efficient tool. This may change as the number of English dominant and U.S. born Hispanics increases.
- At what point are partnerships with civic-focused communication organizations forged? How are these groups supported with funding for voter education and outreach? This combines the "high touch" aspect of Hispanic voters with the boots on the ground needed to register and educate voters on key issues, in this way laying down the foundation for a lifetime of civic participation.
The 2014 midterms proved dismal for Latino voters who failed to cast votes, contributing to the Republican takeover of Congress. While it is true that Hispanics are a growing segment of the electorate, is the impact measured solely as a numerical value due to sheer demographic growth? Or can strategy and methodical execution consistently activate voters in numbers that make them game changers for elections ranging from school boards to who becomes the next President?
As the Republican takeover and the stalling of immigration in Congress demonstrate, voter quality trumps quantity. Answering and acting on these four questions will be crucial not only to the success of any candidate. It will be critical for voters who will have the power to shape a campaign and how the country is governed.
I have written extensively on politics and voter participation, beginning with the 2008 Presidential election. Please click here to read more.