One of the key constituencies to watch in the general election will be Hispanic voters. The Republican Party made a mess of its relationship to this group after taking a hard-line stance on immigration reform one year ago. But Barack Obama also has had his troubles recruiting Hispanics, due both to Hillary Clinton's popularity and, to a lesser extent, racial concerns.
While conventional wisdom holds that John McCain, a border state Senator, could make inroads among Hispanic voters, a new tracking poll shows that, historically, Obama is in a very strong position.
A Gallup Study released today shows that in a hypothetical general election match up Hispanics break by a greater than two-to-one margin for the Illinois Democrat: 62 percent to McCain's 29 percent.
To put that in context, in 2004, Hispanics favored Sen. John Kerry over President Bush by a margin of 59 to 40, meaning that Obama is already ahead of his Democratic predecessor. This, of course, is a welcome development for a candidate hoping to win Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico, states with large Hispanic communities.
"The narrative that Obama is weak and McCain is strong among Latinos is simply not reinforced by the Gallup numbers," wrote Andres Ramirez, of the NDN, a progressive think tank. "Also, it is clear that McCain has been unable to differentiate and/or distinguish himself from the Latino community's negative view of the GOP. If these trends continue, this will make the five heavily Hispanic states of Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Florida much more democratic - a shift that, alone, could give Barack Obama the presidency."
There are, to be sure, areas where Obama can improve his standing among Hispanic voters. In the 2006 congressional elections, for instance, the Democratic Party on a national level won 70 percent of the groups vote. Moreover, there is heavy indication that McCain's camp thinks they can woo these voters as the election progresses.
"There are some non-Republican Hispanic leaders who aren't looking at us right now because they are supporting Sen. Clinton," said McCain adviser Charlie Black. "If they become freed up, we're going to talk to them."
But at this point in time, the Hispanic community may not poise the major political obstacle for Obama that was once believed. As Gallup concludes:
"Obama did not fare well against Hillary Clinton among Hispanics in the 2008 primaries, but the early indications are that he will do well among this increasingly Democratic group in the general election."