The black-white electorate of yesteryear is dead. That was the loud and historic message Latinos delivered to the candidates, pundits and the country as a whole Tuesday night.
What’s more, Sen. Barack Obama did better with Latinos than most commentators are suggesting. These commentators somehow forgot to either notice or mention that, for example, that Obama succeeded in dropping Sen. Hillary Clinton's Latino advantage from 4-1 (68 percent to 17 percent, according to a CNN poll conducted last week) to 3-2. And in almost every Latino-heavy state that voted Super Tuesday, Obama received more than the 26 percent of the Latino vote he got in Nevada just two weeks ago. For whatever reason, few have reported that Clinton didn’t do as well in some places as her campaign thought she would do.
Interestingly, the Latino vote segmented along regional and age lines. For example, Clinton did well among Latinos in New York and New Jersey, but Obama won a majority of Latinos in his home state of Illinois.
Obama also won important Latino votes — and delegates — in Colorado and other states where Clinton was expected to overwhelm him.
Young Latino voters are gravitating toward Obama more than their parents. And that bodes well for Obama.
“Exactly 50 percent of the 18 million voters eligible to vote are under 50 years old,” says Maria Teresa Petersen, the executive director of Voto Latino, a nonpartisan voter registration group. “And this is a generation growing up in the era of anti-immigrant politics. This is why they marched and this is why they are voting. Immigration is more than an issue. It's a great catalyst. The candidate who understands this will win the Latino vote in the future, including the near future."
Antonio Gonzalez, the president of the California-based William C. Velasquez Institute, also sees momentum among Latinos shifting toward Obama. "The big enchilada will be Texas, followed by mid-sized states where Latinos are about 5 percent of the vote, states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland and Washington,” he says. “It's going to continue to be very interesting.”
On Tuesday, I was standing outside Public School 24 in Brooklyn's diverse working class neighborhood of Sunset Park, and I could see and hear the political future of Latino voters in people like 31-year-old Smithe Celestrin.
“The candidates need to understand where Latinos stand,” said Celestrin, a dark-skinned Puerto Rican-French-Chinese digital advertising manager whose main issues are the war, the economy and immigration. “This is our country and we will have our say in it.”
Roberto Lovato is a New York-based contributing associate editor with New America Media and a frequent contributor to The Nation magazine and the Huffington Post. He blogs at www.ofamerica.wordpress.com. An expanded version of this piece ran at New America Media. He can be reached at email@example.com.