Insiders tell me that Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chair Howard Dean has been meeting with Latino DNC members asking them to make a call for Democratic unity to Latino voters. Dean must be concerned that a significant portion of the Latino Democratic vote, which favors Clinton over Obama by a two-to-one margin, will prove hard to deliver should Obama take the nomination.
Howard Dean has clumsily framed the issue as concern for Black/Brown unity but observers have told me that his pitch quickly degenerates from broad-based concerns to electoral politics. The doubling of the Latino Democratic voter turnout has been largely ignored by pundits who have focused on the amazing strength of Barack Obama's appeal to young voters. Pundits notwithstanding, the overall voter surge has also been enabled by a Latino wave that has been largely attributable to both Clinton's focus on this community and a backlash against Republican immigrant-bashing. While ignored by pundits, the penchant of Latinos to swing mid-election is of great concern to those that are attempting to objectively forecast the general election. Obama's self-described inadequate attempts to reach Latino voters has been a boon to Clinton who has the bulk of Latino community leadership, the majority of declared Latino super delegates, and voters behind her candidacy.
Dean's concern is right on target even if his attempt at language to motivate Latino influencers to rise to the occasion is awkward. Obviously, Dean is in the unenviable position of trying to bring attention to the potential crisis without seeming to be predicating the nomination's outcome or influencing it.
However Dean's proposed strategy is even more awkward than his framing of the issue. Dean has encouraged Latino DNC members to focus on McCain's weakness during the last Senate immigration debate when talking to Latino voters. The problem is that the only reason that many of the Latinos who see McCain favorably do so because of the immigration issue. McCain has been one of the few Republicans not to demagogue the issue and as a result, has taken hits from his right flank for defying the anti-immigrant radio shock jocks. In short, making McCain out to be anti-immigrant hater is a hard sell and could backfire.
There is another complicating factor in the idea of attacking McCain on immigration: political facts. Many progressive Latino immigrant activists are continually roiling at Democratic leaders like Rahm Emanuel, whose insistence that Democrats take a more hard line posture on immigration has muddied the rhetorical waters, hampering the potential McCain immigration attack. Many find it difficult to bash McCain on immigration when the Arizona Senator finds himself on par with Rahm Emanuel on the issue.
In truth, the reason that the situation is clumsy for Dean is because the concern is not his alone to fix. In fact, one must wonder why he alone is addressing it.
Dean should share his concerns not only with Latino DNC members, but with the presidential candidates and Democratic House and Senate leadership. Only they have the tools to appease Latino swing voters that have doubled in numbers and that are just as hungry for attention as the rest of the "voter surge."