The Obama campaign, intent on taking some of the crucial Latino vote in California away from Hillary Clinton, organized a daylong door-to-door canvas on Saturday in the region’s most Spanish-speaking city just south of Disneyland.
200 volunteers showed up for a morning rally in Santa Ana before heading out for the final push to canvas their precincts. The tote board in the streetfront Obama office showed 51 precinct captains had already logged almost 8,500 calls.
The LA Times poll last week had Obama getting under 30 per cent of the state’s Latinos in the primary, while Hillary was at 60 percent.
Santa Ana is the most Spanish-speaking city in the US. In 2006 it became the largest US city with an all-Latino city council. Santa Ana is also a city where the mayor, Miguel Pulido, has endorsed Hillary; where the representative in congress, Loretta Sanchez, has endorsed Hillary; and where Hillary herself campaigned in December with Latina icon Dolores Huerta.
Nevertheless the Obama effort in Santa Ana is big, well-organized and energetic. At the rally, office staffer Abraham Jenkins asked how many of the 200 volunteers had worked in previous campaigns. A few hands went up. Then he asked, "How many are first timers?" Almost everybody raised their hands.
The headliner at the rally was Congressman Xavier Becerra from L.A., one of Obama’s highest profile Latino supporters. He recalled that Bobby Kennedy campaigned as an underdog in the California primary in 1968, and brought a new kind of hope to voters. "Someone stole that from us in 1968," he said; "someone tried to snuff out the light. But 40 years later, we have that spark again."
He told the precinct walkers the key arguments to make when they knocked on Latino doors: At the top of the list: "Obama is the son of an immigrant." Second: "Obama is a Harvard law grad who went to work as a community organizer." Then "tell them to read La Opinion, which today endorsed Obama;" and "tell them why this is your first time working in a campaign – why you are doing this."
The enthusiasm and energy of the first-timers was unmistakable, but it didn’t solve the big problem facing the Obama operation in Santa Ana: the precinct walkers were a largely white group in an overwhelmingly Latino city. When staffers asked how many of the 200 volunteers were bilingual, perhaps a dozen raised their hands.
One of those was Elvira Rios, a precinct captain, a retired schoolteacher and a "first timer." Her perspective on Latino voters is radically different from what you get in the media. "The biggest challenge is not getting them to switch from Hillary to Obama," she said. "The biggest challenge is getting them to vote at all."
She said she has been working in Santa Ana for Obama for the last ten days from nine to nine, and only a week ago she had to start with the basics: "voters needed to hear his name – many didn’t really know his name."