June 11th, 2008
07:00 AM ET

Courting Hispanic evangelicals

Leslie Sanchez
CNN Political Contributor
Republican Strategist

Barack Obama is going where no Democrat seeking the presidency has gone since Jimmy Carter in 1976. Carter, who ran to the right of Gerald Ford on cultural issues, actively sought the support of white Southern evangelicals.

And he got it – the last Democrat to do so in a national election. Now, seeking to capitalize on the uncertainty some prominent Christian activists like Dr. James Dobson have voiced about John McCain, Sen. Obama is seeking to match Carter by cementing his relationship with the faith community.

On Tuesday, signaling that he recognizes religion has an impact on the U.S. political process; Sen. Obama met in Chicago with faith leaders from across the country.
He has some fence mending to do, especially in the aftermath of the scandalous, anti-American sermons delivered by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. But the evangelical community is significantly different from when Carter sought their support in 1976 or when they switched to Ronald Reagan and the GOP in 1976.

Largely overlooked by most commentators is the emerging number of Hispanic evangelicals, who politically are up for grabs. According to a report by the Pew Hispanic Center, 15 percent of Hispanics are evangelicals. Hispanics are the largest single U.S. minority group, making them a critical voter bloc in this fall’s election.

Moreover, it’s an important bloc in the most important states for either candidate – California, Colorado, Arizona, Florida, New Mexico, Texas and New Jersey. A strong push in one direction or the other could change the outcome in one of these states and, with it, the results in the Electoral College.

This makes Hispanic evangelicals a target – and an important one.

For Sen. Obama, it’s uphill sledding. Hispanics leaders say the lack of a significant presence in his campaign is cause for them to be concerned.

According to Rev. Luis Cortes, head of Esperanza USA, Obama has yet to outline any specifics for a Hispanic agenda and remains inaccessible at " 10,000 feet." Sen. McCain, having won election numerous times in Hispanic-rich Arizona, is better off – but only by a little.

Internally neither campaign has done much to incorporate Hispanics into their infrastructure. Sen. Obama is relying on the support of high-profile, nationally-known surrogates including New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa – who has come over from the Clinton camp – to solidify his support among Hispanics.

Sen. McCain is hoping his roots in the southwest, his record of distinguished military service and his support for immigrant-friendly immigration reform will help him better the record 40 percent Hispanic vote won by President Bush in 2004. Of that 40 percent, almost three-quarters were evangelicals. Their feelings about immigration put them at odds with their non-Hispanic evangelical counterparts – but both groups are a compassionate, family-oriented and value-based constituency on issues such as abortion and gay marriage.

So, as Planned Parenthood moves toward an endorsement of Sen. Obama, Sen. McCain has room to make additional inroads to the Hispanic community on issues – like education and school choice – that matter to them. Sen. McCain has been a leader in the push for school choice in Arizona that would allow low-income families the same options for educating their children that rich, white liberals have.

Sen. Obama, who must earn and keep the active support of the National Education Association and its members if he is to have any chance of winning in the fall, cannot say the same. And this could cost him votes. A report by Pew Hispanic Center identifies it as the top concern for Hispanics.

And, while Sen. Obama is working to solidify his hold on the nomination and unify the party behind him, Sen. McCain is speaking to the national conventions of the National Council of La Raza and the League of United Latin American Citizens.

The impact of Hispanic evangelicals and the broader Hispanic community will be far-reaching in this election and may determine the winner between the two senators.

Editor's Note: Leslie Sanchez is also the CEO of market research firm Impacto Group, which advises large companies on women's & Hispanic issues.

Filed under: Barack Obama • Leslie Sanchez • Raw Politics • Religion
soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. Cameron Sheehy,Omaha Nebraska

    Hispanics are the next group to join Obama, but i wonder when the Hilary supporters in his own party will join. As a canadian, seeing how great the party has the potential to be, its downright moronic that democrats are finding yet another way to shoot themselves in the foot...AGAIN, by not getting behind their candidate b/c queen hilary didnt win. Get over it, its not going to change. The only thing thats going to change is the direction of this country. This is even more messed up than canadian politics and that statement alone, should be enough to unite any party.

    June 12, 2008 at 12:43 am |
  2. Mike

    I really believe Republicans, Democrats, Independents and everyone is tired of old politics and wants something to work. We only have one life to live and why not have the best in our lifetime. If we cannot work together here in America, than you know the "Iraq War" is a lost cause. Obama is trying to give us that chance.

    June 12, 2008 at 12:17 am |
  3. linda canada

    I can't see how these religious people can be so fooled by Obama. He staid in the church 20+ years.He listened to his pastors tapes at university. He said he was his spirital mentor, and he said pastor pfger was his moral compass to keep him on track.He wrote about his books with some of the speeches from wright who he says he never heard such things in church but when he was found out he said he heard them is this not a lie.He has said a lot of things to Isreal and the Palestinians and then took them back 24 hours later.This guy can't make a stand and it will be to the perill of the U.S. he has Isreal and the palestinians mad now and it is his inexperience that will flare up more wars. This is why experience and knowledge count.so now he is asking for the faith based churches to support him after he has heard all these years of hate and anti-white,and anti-american speeches. watching the videos i don't think the congregation comes out to good ethier with there cheering and claping against the vile outburts against hillary from both ministers wright and pflger.where was the gospel?whers was christ being spoken?it was all politics and anti-american.that is not a church.

    June 11, 2008 at 11:34 pm |
  4. kent fitzsimmons,Kewanee, Illinois


    Everyone knows that it is too late to build a wall between the US and Mexico. Really, we may as well merge the US and Mexico.......I say this realistically. Millions of Mexican people have crossed into the US from Mexico. There are many, many upsides to having more people in this country. I don't have enough room to list them all.

    I say.................tear down the fence and let the wave flow...........

    June 11, 2008 at 11:26 pm |
  5. David

    Barack Obama is the splitting image of Jimmy Carter- even though he says he wants change – he is proposing policies from the 60’s-70. We need to have Vetter’s Vetting his credentials.

    June 11, 2008 at 11:25 pm |
  6. Clarence

    Hypocrites. What about Christian forgiveness? Really was has any of the potential Presidential candidates done for you? What happened when the people wanted to make Jesus King? He departed to another place. Why? Because his kingdom will bring something better than empty promises, speeches and debates and his words stirred the masses to turn from their bad way and serve God. Obama if you really want the Hispanic Vote – focus on why is there a border wall pending along the US/Mexico and Not against Canada/US. You want to unite the people show them what "We" the people are doing. Don't fall for the hype. Focus on the issue of how the current government helped Katrina victims (Not) and let the Hispanics know that is the same type of help McCain in promoting. All on paper nothing of substance

    June 11, 2008 at 8:38 pm |
  7. Matthew

    It seems as if the democratic party, including the rest of American bureaucracies finds time for every community in America, but the black community. The black community that represents the masses of those dissatisfied with government policy in fair not competitive education, fair not competitive living standards, and a better outlook for the black people at the bottom of the chain on up. This can not be looked upon as a game of politics, in switching different stances on government to get office. Criminal activity, exploitation, and inconsideration has been a continuing problem in the black community. James Dobson is a open sexist, just look at his previous talking points. The white evanglelical church is not open to any other communities outside their own. So I think that unity is something that would help in their perspectives. Suffering shouldn't be permittable or even charitable with hidden subsitutes that may factor in. The international frame in the world is being divided by ethnicity and religious faith. America can't make a stand without first reaching out.

    June 11, 2008 at 8:03 pm |
  8. Alex

    Hi Leslie,
    Love you and your work! I am pleased to see others aren't buying into Barrack Obama's "Pied Piper" approach to "change." I wonder how many people are actually listening or paying attention to his promise of raising taxes to achieve his liberal and mandated programs. Our nation has so many issues that need fixin that I question is he even has a clue how to straighten half of them out. Now my wife believes he's a terrorist, but I doubt that seriously. I don't doubt his good intensions, but I do doubt his ability to deliver. I kept my fingers crossed with George W. Bush and he couldn't deliver. I have no choice but to go with McCain because despite the feelings of alot of folks, McCain is far more likely to produce exactly what he says he will.

    June 11, 2008 at 7:46 pm |
  9. Ville

    OBAMA for the world:

    He said at the compassion forum that he believes conservative voices should be heard at the table.

    He believes that you don't set the agenda at the leadership level: wise, give the people the opportunity to speak truth to power.

    If you are anti abortion you should have the opportunity to change the law within your state, not the entire country. This is fair, not a small set dominating the country or vice versa.

    He did attempt to take down Hillary ("She is a nice strong lady"), Mark Pennitentiary and Terry Madcauliffe ran her as some incumbent, testicular fortitude Doctoral Student.

    They had her wasting money on showmanship, Obama outdid them a mile without confetti and the rounds at bars. Paying organizers to get people out to vote.

    Hillary came back in the end with some girl power, sacking mark pennhead and having loud broken record terry madcauliffe occupying and distracting the media.

    Obama had his game tight he opened it up from the beginning she opened her campaign up 2 months late.

    she should have courted the Internet crowd. Hillary not Chelsea should be doing colleges more. blue collar voters were already leaning her way.

    Blue Collar voters and older women were a challenge to begin with, because they tend to trust the evil they know, They are not bitter but have been tricked and conned far too often.

    The media wanted something new they did not hate Hillary, they wanted more Jeremiah wrights, face it that sells. They get to control the viewers emotions and dominate the prime time, they have been doing this before Obama was born.

    June 11, 2008 at 6:39 pm |
  10. Illinois

    The hispanics are not going to vote for Obama. And Richardson won't help him with that problem. Everyone knows that Richardson made a deal with Obama and that's why he moved over from the Clintons, which outraged the hispanic community.

    And Obama has his own "religious" problems with his church. Oh, I forgot. He left his church. Well, they likely gather for "dinners" and family "get togethers". It's highly unlikely that Obama has truly seen the error of his ways or is truly repentant. A man such as Obama simply doesn't care enough, unless it hurts his political career. Obama made his bed.....deliberately.....and now must face the consequences of his poor judgment and decisions.

    June 11, 2008 at 4:36 pm |
  11. Kristen- Philadelphia, PA

    Betty Ann what makes your voice more important than mine? I don’t think Hillary Clinton would be a good fit for VP. She is not change she is same old Washington. I think by listening to the people you mean people who think like yourself. I have supported Obama since day one and trust whatever decision he makes for VP but I don’t think Hillary will be it. Obama can not just pick Hillary because her supporters want her as VP. He is the one who has to work with the VP. I don’t think Clinton showed she would work well being 2nd to Obama. She would be more valuable advocating her issues maybe in a cabinet position.

    Obama listen to yourself !!!

    June 11, 2008 at 3:54 pm |
  12. Kent Fitzsimmons,Illinois

    If everyone took a look at the differences between Democrats and Republicans you would see where you fit into each candidates agenda. Each picks his specific party for a reason. I marvel at the number of people that want to somehow squeeze or trick Democrat ideals out of a Republican. It's not gonna happen.

    David Gergen is a talented and informed man. I'd like to hear from him the differences in today 's Democrats vs a Republicans. They are drastic.

    June 11, 2008 at 2:11 pm |
  13. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Voters are listening to Obama, including republicans and independents, however, they feel Obama has given specifics. Obama will give more specifics in debate with McCain and you watch after each debate McCain will steal what Obama says. McCain has stolen Obama's "agent of change" for himself including the back dropped which McCain was later told he had to pull down. John McCain knows Obama has specifics, as he doesn't, and Obama's smart enough to know John McCain wants his. Obama is going to blow McCain away in debates and McCain is scared.

    June 11, 2008 at 1:39 pm |
  14. Betty Ann, Nacogdoches,TX

    Hi Leslie,
    Ok, I'm Catholic and I am voting for Obama unless he really does something stupid. If he wants most of the Catholic vote and Hispanics are mostly Catholic, he should select Hillary as VP.
    I hope he is listening to the people!!!!

    June 11, 2008 at 12:05 pm |
  15. Mr Fix it (Fixmaster33@yahoo.com)

    It is always a good thing for a leader to show and express is religious beliefs and faith per se.

    Ignoring the one sect or should i say 2 sects is equally not a very smart move. I understand you can't meet and please all at all times.
    One should not forget that there is a huge electorate among the non believers- Those who have chosen not to believe to any faith by choice or possibly by disappointment of the current predominant religions in this country.

    The other and important growing group (even though still a minority) is the MUSLIMS. Islam in Europe is the fast largest growing faith and the impact is equally being felt in the USA. There are alot of good God fearing (non extreme) muslims in this nation who would love to be talked to and addressed to as an important group of people who love and will die for their country.

    I suspect O and McShame are not trying to come close to this group of religious people for fear of being associated or appearing to be comfortable with Muslims.

    A president of this country is a president of all and ignoring Muslims and non believers is equally discriminating as not willing to meet with homosexuals. The media and the bush fear mongering following 911 is partly to blame. A lot of Americans today will develop a resentment on someone by vertue of them being Muslim.

    I guess what i am saying is, should millions of Muslim democrat stay home in protest or should they write on the ballot papers that Muslims do matter and are just as Americans as any other religious groups.

    I am Muslim and my wife is Protestant and we live together in Harmony. She supports Hillary and I support Obama. Now you judge....

    June 11, 2008 at 12:00 pm |
  16. Annie Kate

    The lack of specifics in Obama's campaign to date cover a lot of different ethnic and interest groups. David Gergen said the other night that now was the time for Obama to take the time to lay out his plans and the specifics of those plans – to identify just what change he wants to bring in tangible goals.

    Obama has been very good with showing people the forest, now he needs to identify the trees.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    June 11, 2008 at 10:54 am |