The way that Robert de Posada, a Virginia-based conservative political operative, tells it, he was in a rush.
De Posada needed to cut the 2010 ad he wrote targeting Latino voters in Nevada from an un-airable 37 seconds down to a standard 30-second spot. Control of the U.S. Senate hung in the balance, and many political analysts thought that when Nevada’s growing number of Latino voters selected between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) and his Tea Party Republican challenger, Sharron Angle, the fate of a whole range of crucial federal legislation would basically be decided. De Posada thought the spot's tag line, “Don’t vote for those who have betrayed you," was a little long. It was a reference to immigration reform and the failure of members of both parties to advance it or even support it, as de Posada saw it. So the line became: “Don’t vote.” And a few weeks later, when the ad ran on a Univision radio station in the Las Vegas area, de Posada became what he himself describes as one of the most reviled and distrusted Latinos in America.
Political commentators and Latino voting and political rights groups excoriated de Posada. Geraldo Rivera, a Puerto Rican political activist turned talk show host turned journalist, called de Posada a "yellowbelly down and dirty punk," who was "trying to reverse decades of Civil Rights struggle," live on Fox News. Punk is sometimes used as a slang term for a gay man, most often pejoratively. De Posada, who is openly gay, believes the critiques of his political handiwork quickly grew ugly and personal because of that fact. De Posada’s critics said his commercial was part of a cynical and sinister GOP plot to curb the number of mostly Democratic-leaning Latino voters who participated in the 2010 elections, and in so doing, deliver the race for Angle. Four years later, as the nation’s marks National Voter Registration Day and prepares for a presidential election, de Posada is working a little more quietly -- some say subtly -- but still peddling the same essential message.
“I’m telling people to vote for Gary Johnson, a third party candidate, the Libertarian candidate for president,” de Posada said, from his office in Madison, Va. “And I’m saying if you can’t do that then don’t vote. Latinos should not vote.”
“Not for Barack Obama or Mitt Romney anyway.”
Today de Posada runs his own political strategy firm, but in 2010, he was head of a political organization called Latinos for Reform. According to SourceWatch, a nonprofit research organization, the group shared a post office box address with a series of PACs connected to Tea Party astro-turf fund wrangler Dick Armey, a former House Republican leader. De Posada says that he shared a legal compliance advisor with these organizations, but has never received funds from Armey.
De Posada also served as the head of Hispanic Affairs for the Republican National Committee from the late 1980s to the early 1990s, and helped to found the Latino Coalition, a right-leaning business group that later criticized the 2010 ad he created, the Las Vegas Sun reported. In 2004, de Posada also helped to draft the language for President George W. Bush’s failed immigration overhaul bill, he said.
Latino voters should not cast a ballot for President Barack Obama or his GOP challenger, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, as both candidates and their parties have made a study of manipulating and taking for granted Latino voters, de Posada told The Huffington Post. Both have failed miserably to overhaul immigration or even roundly and clearly support meaningful reform during the campaign, he added. But Gary Johnson, a one-time Republican governor of New Mexico, has long been an advocate of immigration reform, sensible and human treatment for undocumented immigrants and creating a legislative solution to the nation’s immigration crisis, he described.
The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that even after a sharp decline in illegal immigration since the recession began, there are an estimated 11 to 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. Undocumented immigrants represent about 18 percent of the Latino population in the United States, said Marc Hugo Lopez, associate director of the Hispanic Center.
And while other issues such as jobs, education and health care repeatedly show up as the top Latino voter priorities in national polls, immigration is an issue around which large numbers of Latino adults -- some 80 percent -- agree that reform is essential. Support for immigration reform fluctuates when the legal status of Latino adults is accounted for. Among natural-born U.S. citizens, the numbers hover near 70 percent, the lowest level of support.
Latino voters have been the subject of intense attention in the 2012 election cycle. With 50,000 becoming age-eligible to vote each month, Latinos make up the nation’s largest minority group and the fastest-growing portion of the electorate, according to Voto Latino data. But, for every one registered Latino voter, there is another who is eligible but unregistered.
That political track record is part of a larger set of habits, political analysts say. Latino voters typically participate on Election Day at levels lower than their black and white counterparts.
In support of his 2012 cause, de Posada is sending op eds to English- and Spanish–language newspapers in key swing states with large Latino populations -- Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado and Florida. He is scheduling talking sessions and events on college campuses in the same places, and publicly backing Johnson, the Libertarian candidate. The goal: scare one or both of the major political parties into taking immigration reform seriously, he said. Along with immigration reform, de Posada wants to see both front-runner presidential candidates start to talk about crime, violence, the drug war and how these issues impact communities of color.
“I might be perceived as this horrendous monster,” de Posada said. “But, I’m honestly just trying to get Hispanic voters to take themselves seriously. This is the way you send a message.”
Efforts such as de Posada’s could shave off just enough of the nation’s overwhelmingly Democratic-leaning Latino vote in swing states to cut into Obama’s electoral college haul and deliver the election to Romney, said Walter Stone, a University of California Davis political scientist who studies voting and elections.
“It’s hard to know what he is really trying to do without putting him on the couch,” said Stone, who wrote the book, “Three is a Crowd,” about third-party candidates and their impact on American politics.
“Elections are free-for-alls with all sorts of players with all sorts of interests,” Stone said. “Sometimes they don’t state them explicitly. Sometimes they do. But could it be an example of a certain kind of sleight of hand simply to suppress the Latino vote, which would other wise go disproportionately to the Democrat? That’s a possibility. It’s also possible this guy is totally sincere.”
Third-party candidates have historically claimed that there is little to no difference between the major parties on a particular issue or set of issues in order to attract voters. And, when they attract even small but substantial groups of voters, they can frighten the major parties into adjusting their policy positions, Stone said. Much of former presidential candidate Ross Perot’s 1996 public-spending chart show later appeared in the Republican Party’s Contract with America, Stone noted.
George Wallace helped Republicans understand just how may Southern White Democrats could be converted to Republicans with race-based political appeals and scary tales of white subordination.
During his dressing-down on Fox News in 2010, there was a moment when de Posada thought, "Should I just take my mike off and run?" he said. But this year, he said, he is certain about the advice he is dispensing, and ready to take any heat that comes.
“We effectively have two candidates saying don’t look at my record, trust my promises," de Posada said. "Both Romney and Obama have a lousy record when it comes to immigration. Who can tell me I’m absolutely wrong?”