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I'm Not Just a Key Demographic

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A Facebook friend of mine, who happens to also be a Latino activist, posted the following great analysis of recent political attempts to win him over:

It's fascinating how white Republicans seem to think Latinos are monolithic. Marco Rubio is Cuban and most Latinos simply don't identify with him. He isn't some sort of magical key to the Latino vote. Cubans are a slim minority of all Latinos in the United States. Most of us are Mexican. Many of us are also Salvadoran, Colombian, Peruvian, Chilean, Panamanian, Argentinian, etc. Not only is it geography, it is culture, food, language (the Spanish language is far more diverse than English). We are straight, gay, European, Native American, African, Asian. Latinos make for a fascinating tapestry. It might do Republicans some good to recognize this reality.

I was struck by the honesty and power of his post; as a woman I had been feeling exactly the same way. We are no longer just slightly more than half the country. We've become a commodity.

Already this summer, I'm observing cheesy, schmaltzy, one-size-fits-all attempts to court women voters. Many campaigns seem to reach from the same old tired bag of tricks every time they want to reach out to women:

• Make the website page look soft and feminine.
• Have a "Women For... (Insert candidate's name here)" group.
• Talk about abortion to the exclusion of almost anything else.
• Show the candidate's wife as often as possible.
• Hire perky, pretty college girls to sign up supporters using clipboards.
• Shoot photos around the dinner table (as if that's the only place women hang out).

Snore. Flinch. Recoil. Why are they doing this?

Women make up 51 percent of the population of the United States. Women and Latino voters are the key demographics in the November general election, from the county coroner to the president of the United States. As the lead organizer in Denver for Colorado's grassroots "We Are Women" march and rally on April 28 of this year (there were lead organizers in other cities and towns around the state, too), I've received a number of phone calls from candidates asking for my help in "getting women on board with our campaign". Our 2,000 person rally and march in Colorado was unique in that it was not sponsored by a non-profit or corporation, but entirely grassroots, was replicated at the same time on the same day in all 50 states around the nation, and entirely funded by the activists who participated. Campaigns have been chomping at the bit to get a piece of it, wanting to know if they can have my activist list, Google docs, and "secret words" (secret handshake?).

Here's the secret. Start respecting women. And while you're at it, start respecting everyone else, too.

At the federal level, any incumbent who voted against the Violence Against Women Act, the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, or pissed off the Children's Defense Fund, should hang up their campaign right now. Don't even bother reading to the end of this page.

At the state level, any incumbent who voted in favor of limiting a woman's right to make decisions about her own health care, or who voted to decrease school funding, or to limit resources to the poor, the elderly, children, and anyone else who is vulnerable, take a hike. Take it now.

What about targeted state level and higher candidates who are running for election for the first time? Here's how voters should decide. (Listen up, women activist friends -- I'm about to tell you.)

Go to the candidate's website. If equality for all persons regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, age, marital status, religion, citizenship, health, original language, and country of birth (otherwise known as civil rights) are not clearly one of the top three marquee issues, close the website and walk away. Send your money and spend your volunteer time working for another candidate. If it's up there, go to the next step.

Call your candidate. Ask to meet his/her paid staff. Tell him/her you will offer your support only if you can see the paid staff. On a state level campaign, it may be one or two other people, and at the federal level, it may be a dozen or more. Why? These are the men and women who, if the candidate wins the election, will probably transition from stressful political jobs with long hours to policy jobs with good benefits. (Candidates always take care of their own when they become legislators.)

Take a look at the staff and size them up. Where are they from? Is there a mix of "experts" brought in from other places along with people from your own community? Does the staff represent the American people as a whole, or are they predominantly white men in their late twenties to early forties? Is there the same diversity as a random line of people at a movie theatre in your community, or do they look like they just stepped out of a law school class photograph? Are there as many people of color or people with physical limitations, proportionately, at the highest levels of their staff, and are 51 percent of their senior staff women? Do they represent adults of all ages who vote, from ages 18 to 89?

Sure, most savvy candidates will hire canvassers and field organizers who look like the community where votes are being chased. But how many of them have the same diversity in their inner circle? How could a campaign possibly know the experiences and desires of mothers and grandmothers if they don't have one or more as their advisors? Elderly people? Jews? Asians? Immigrants? People of color? Gays and lesbians? People retired from blue collar jobs? Teachers? Union members?

Ask yourself, "If my future legislator is surrounded by this team, how much compassion will they feel for people who do not look, or speak, or ambulate as I do? How much does this team identify with me personally, or with each of my family members?"

The same kind of ignorance that makes a legislator oblivious to the concerns of the majority of Americans makes a candidate justify not hiring a diverse paid campaign staff. There is more to winning elections than crunching numbers, endless fundraising calls, and bullying one's opponent. There is also integrity.

Integrity in knowing that every American has something important to offer the legislative process at every level of government, and that includes on the campaign trail. Integrity in knowing that when one talks about bringing jobs to their community, it starts with their own campaign. Integrity in knowing that win or lose, the candidate puts their money where their mouth is -- in their own community.

If you are an activist and a member of one of the highly targeted demographics in the upcoming election, and most Americans are, please stand with me. It's time to demand more of our legislators, and the best time to do that is when they are candidates. Your time and your money are precious to you and to your family -- don't waste it on candidates who do not value diversity on a very deep level.

The next time a candidate calls me and asks for my help, or my email lists, or my money, I intend to say, "Sure, when can I meet your senior staff?" I hope it will be yours, as well.

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