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Latino Political Advertisers Busy As 2014 Races Tighten

The many close, critical races are prompting groups to do heavy Spanish language advertising this midterm, a strategy that has worked in the past.
Ricardo Martinez, a volunteer for the Mi Familia Vota non-partisan organization, talks with Vanesa Rojas, a voter, about the upcoming midterm elections in Aurora, Colorado on October 20, 2014. Armed with a clipboard and lists of Hispanic voters, Martinez canvasses immigrant-filled neighborhoods in Spanish six days a week during campaign season, knocking on doors and urging these US citizens to vote in Tuesday's congressional elections. IVAN COURONNE / AFP - Getty Images

Political strategist Lorena Chambers wanted to place a Spanish-language radio commercial in Miami for the Florida gubernatorial race, but when she went to buy some air time, she found all slots were sold out.

“I’ve got dollars to spend and I can’t because it’s sold out. That’s never happened to me before,” said Chambers, a founder of ChambersLopez Strategies LLC, a political strategy and marketing group based in Arlington, Va.

As the Senate races and other election contests tighten, parties and campaigns are looking for the additional voters that will put them over the top.

Although the numbers of Latino voters in some key races - namely Senate contests - are small, these down-to-the-wire elections mean even their small share is worth plowing for support as the midterm campaigning winds down in time for Tuesday’s Election Day.

“The campaign to get Latinos out to vote has never been more expansive for a midterm." Lorena Chambers, ChambersLopez Strategies LLC

That means in places like Colorado, there are many more Spanish-language ads than in previous elections, the sort of “wall-to-wall coverage” that non-Latino white voters have long been accustomed to seeing in elections, Chambers said. On top of that, Hispanic advocacy and other groups are doing field work, knocking on doors to register and turn out Latino voters and making sure those who can get their ballots mailed in.

“From my perspective as a political consultant, with media and field efforts and organization work, there’s never been more resources,” Chambers said.

She includes in that the many groups such as Mi Familia Vota and others who are providing people to knock on doors and make phone calls. “The campaign to get Latinos out to vote has never been more expansive for a midterm,” she said.

While the Latino vote has been a question mark in the campaign, few campaigns have really good polling mechanism for Latino voters, she said, citing reports over the years suggesting undercounting of Latino votes in polling.

“No one knows what that means, so people are throwing more and more dollars into Colorado” and other places, she said.

Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project found in a survey of Hispanic adults that 63 percent of those who are registered voters identify as or lean toward Demcorats, compared to 27 percent who identify with or lean toward the Republican party. Generally, Republicans need to capture a little more than 30 percent of Latino vote to win races.

Latinos “could be kingmaker” in several of the close 10 Senate races – Randy Borntrager, People for the American Way political director.

So there is grappling going on in Spanish for those additional votes.

An ad titled “Tu Poder” running in Colorado - paid for by People for the American Way and NexGen Climate and done by Chambers - hits several themes at once to reach Latinos. It shows a mailbox to explain the new Colorado voting law in which every registered voter gets a mail-in ballot that has to be mailed back by Oct. 31 and it also touches on issues of the environment and health.

The ad for Colorado’s Democratic Sen. Mark Udall opens with several official ballot packets landing on a table and a narrator saying “Este es tu poder. (This is your power.)" That line is repeated later and followed by “úselo (use it.)”

The ad is part of a multiyear effort People for the American Way (PFAW) designed to reach Latino voters. Randy Borntrager, political director of the liberal group, said in 2014 Latinos “could be kingmaker” in several of the close 10 Senate races.

The organization has been running Spanish language television ads in heavy rotation in North Carolina, Georgia and Colorado. They are running a Spanish language radio ad in Wisconsin and digital ad in Virginia.

On the Republican side, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has paid for a Spanish-language ad featuring former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush endorsing Rep. Cory Gardner, Udall's challenger. “Cory apoya el espíritu trabjador y empresarial de la comunidad latina,” (Cory supports the worker and business spirit of the Latino community),” Bush says in the ad.

Borntrager said the value of Latino voters, even when small, became clear in Wisconsin's 2012 recall elections, when PFAW started its Spanish-language advertising program. The group did radio and direct mail and emphasized the race for the Racine, Wisconsin Senate seat, where 12 percent of the population is Latino. Democrats lost every recall race in that election but one, the Racine race where Democrats grabbed 50.6 percent to 49.4 percent, a difference of 819 votes, Borntrager said.

"It was clear that the Latino vote was the deciding factor," he said.

That pattern of Latinos helping push a candidate over the edge was repeated in Virgina in 2013. PFAW ran Spanish-language ads to help Democratic Gov.Terry McCauliffe in his win over Republican Ken Cuccinelli and to help other Democrats down ballot.

"Our research showed the advertising we did about Cuccinelli helped brand the entire ticket," Borntrager said. Downballot in the attorney general race, the Demcorat won by 165 votes out of more than 2.2 million cast.

Those races show the impact and the reason to invest in the Latino vote “because they hold the balance of power in a closer race,” Borntrager said.

In addition to the ads, PFAW has partnered with groups to help canvass and turn out Latino voters.

“I think we understood that we needed to do more this election cycle to communicate the differences between candidates and who would represent you in the governor’s mansions all the way down the tickets on issues of importance like immigration,” Borntrager said.

Beyond Colorado, the group's ads in Georgia criticize Republican Gov. Nathan Deal for the state's policy of banning young immigrants not legally here from any of the state's top 5 universities and requiring they pay out-of-state tuition if they attend any other institution, he said.

Manny Lara of Miami-based Noiseworks Media agreed this has been his busiest midterm. Lara, whose advertising agency did political advertising for Newt Gingrich and for 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, said campaigns often hire a Washington political firm to do their ads, but this year some of that work has gone to his company.

He produced an ad titled "De Acuerdo" for Florida Gov. Rick Scott who is in a brutal, close gubernatorial race with Democrat Charlie Crist. The ad was seen as a clear bid for the growing Puerto Rican vote. It featured former Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuño, a Republcan, and former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferré, a Democrat.

In the ad, the two point out their party affiliation differences and say they don’t agree on a lot. But, Fortuño says, “Estamos de acuerdo que el Gobernador Rick Scott se merece su voto. (We agree that Gov. Rick Scott deserves your vote.)”

“The outreach to the Hispanic community has to be more present than ever” because of Hispanic population growth, Lara said. “Eventually all those people become voters. I don’t think it’s where it has to be, but it’s getting to be more than it has been.”