POLITICS
09/25/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Dark Clouds: Obama Assassination Threats Weigh On Voters

Denver, CO -- Contrary to the widespread expectation that the nomination of Barack Obama will intensify black-brown tensions, many of the 12 Latinos gathered for a focus group discussion here on Monday waxed poetic at the thought of America electing Obama to the presidency.

"The most exciting thing is that for the first time in my lifetime I will see a black President," declared Adrian Romero, a 35-year-old video editor who did not vote in 2004.

"What he brings to the table is that he transcends being black," added Pamela Gamarra, a 34-year-old senior data analyst in Boulder said.

But, just as the enthusiasm for Obama gained strength, Alex Moreno, a 36-year-old who runs his own window washing business, raised an issue that has emerged repeatedly in such groups by whites, blacks, Hispanics, yuppies and blue-collar workers:

"I am concerned about a black President being assassinated, and having the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles following us everywhere."

Peter Hart, the Democratic pollster overseeing this focus group, sponsored by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, said afterward that the assassination issue has been raised in every presidential focus group he has seen this year.

Moreno's question brought the gathering to a brief standstill as Obama supporters, the few McCain backers, and those who are undecided nodded in agreement.

After Moreno raised the assassination issue, the tone of Obama supporters became less optimistic, and the tone of McCain backers became more harshly critical of Obama's candidacy.

Dwayne Chavez, a 44-year-old former soldier who works as a blood bank technician, is a Republican who voted for Bush in 2004. Now, he is leaning strongly toward Obama, but in the aftermath of Moreno's remark, Chavez said:

"I don't think America is ready to have that [racial] ceiling broken."

Mike Montoya, a 51-year-old online book salesman, firmly committed to McCain and the GOP, interjected with a complaint that the Obama campaign has claimed racism "every time there is something critical said about him... If he is going to be President, he has to put his blackness behind him."

In contrast to similar gatherings of white voters at which sharp resentment of undocumented immigrants often surfaces, these Hispanic voters generally had a very different view.

Montoya, the McCain supporter, said, "There are some people [in this country] who won't work for the minimum wage, and we need those [undocumented] workers."

Pamela Hendricks, 44, who works in family liaison for the public school system, noted that the undocumented "are paying taxes, even if they are paying on an illegal Social Security number."

McCain's moderate stand appeared to have done him some good among Latinos at the gathering here, a number of whom were, however, angry at the anti-immigrant views of many Republican House and Senate members.

Romero, who intends to vote for Obama, said he was impressed with McCain because he "did acknowledge in one of his ads that immigrants are the backbone of the workforce of this country."

Chavez said, "I don't think people should be penalized for coming in to work. People who hire illegals should be punished, not people who are looking for work." He added that Republican animosity to immigrants "has made it hard for me as a person with brown skin. There are a lot of assumptions made about me."

The one angry view on the illegal immigration issue was voiced by John Candelaria, 68, retired from the Air Force, and a solid anti-tax Republican:

"I'm totally, completely against the illegals coming across... I'm a victim of the illegals. In my area there have been seven foreclosures [of homes purchased by undocumented immigrants] who bailed out and went home. Now the prices of all the homes went down, and I can't get refinancing."

All but one of the participants in the focus group appeared to be committed to either Obama (8) or McCain (3), with the sole undecided voter sounding as if she would back McCain.

If their votes turn out to be 8-4 in favor of Obama, it would be a significant Democratic gain over 2004, when George W. Bush won five of the votes of the members of this group, John Kerry six, and a single participant did not vote that year.