With so much national media attention focused on the new Arizona immigration law, one would think that Meg Whitman would be struggling to gain any traction with Hispanic voters in California. But the results of a new Field poll suggest that Whitman is actually gaining support among Latino voters and as a result, has pulled into a virtual dead heat with Democrat Jerry Brown.
A new Field poll shows Brown leading the race 44% to 43% with 13% of California voters still undecided. But by far the most interesting part of the poll is that it shows Whitman gaining Hispanic support. 18% of Californians are Hispanics, and most of the time, they vote for Democrats. Thus, if Jerry Brown is going to win in California, he needs to win the Hispanic vote by a substantial margin in order to offset Whitman’s lead amongst white, non-Hispanic voters (who make up 69% of the state’s likely voter electorate). The Field poll has non-Hispanic voters favoring Whitman 48%-40%). Yet Field only finds Brown leading by eleven among Hispanic voters (50%-39%). Back when Field surveyed the electoral landscape in January, Brown’s lead was at 24 points. One would think that having a Republican governor in a neighboring state pushing an unpopular (among Hispanics, at least) immigration law would have given Brown a bigger boost.
How is it possible that Brown has lost ground among Hispanics despite such a prominent debate raging next door? The answer is probably a combination of three different factors: Whitman’s savvy use of media to get out her message, her endless pocketbook that enables her to buy that media, and Jerry Brown’s underperformance.
The campaign has been particularly proactive in making sure that Hispanic voters understand that Whitman is firmly against both the Arizona immigration law and Proposition 187. Proposition 187 was a 1994 California ballot initiative that set out to create a state-managed citizenship screening system in order to prohibit illegal immigrants from gaining access to healthcare, public education, and other social services. It passed in 1994 but was later thrown out by a federal judge who found the measure unconstitutional). The Whitman campaign has bought ad time in California before and during all of Mexico’s World Cup soccer games as well as other prominent games during the tournament which has drawn consistently large Hispanic audiences. But beyond soccer, Whitman spokesman Hector Barajas explained to me that Whitman is pushing to reach Hispanic voters through every available avenue. “We have advertisements running on all three major Spanish language television networks and in all of the major Spanish language print publications… we are going to be unveiling billboards throughout the state… and most importantly, Meg is going up and down the state talking to Hispanic voters about the issues that they care most about,” said Barajas. As for what issues Whitman is focusing on when talking to Hispanics? “Jobs and education” responded Barajas, citing high levels of unemployment and abnormally high dropout rates amongst Hispanic school students. Whitman is also getting a little help from Jerry Brown himself, who, as Barajas observed, “doesn’t have a Spanish language spokesman; his website is all in English (how difficult is it to put up one page in Spanish?) Our Spanish language website mirrors our English one and they get updated daily or at the least every other day.” Given the fact that Brown hasn’t really started spending, Whitman may find it more challenging to continue making progress with Hispanic voters. But she has the resources to make a full court press. If the Whitman camp can keep Brown from winning Hispanics by a large margin, Meg Whitman will have a very good chance of becoming the next governor of California.