Republican Meg Whitman and Democrat Jerry Brown are trying to win over Latino voters in this year’s gubernatorial race. For months, Whitman’s targeted them with ads in two languages. Brown’s labor union allies recently launched an ad campaign called “Cambiando California” – Spanish for “Change California.” Whitman faces the tougher sell to a constituency that’s traditionally voted Democratic.
With her vast resources, billionaire businesswoman Meg Whitman’s been able to do what other GOP candidates have not: reach Latinos over the airwaves in English- and Spanish-language ads and on the ground with billboards and mailers – and with offices in places like Chula Vista and East Los Angeles.
Moises Merino is Whitman’s statewide director of Latino outreach. “It’s certainly a key location to be placed at – one that I think that past Republican campaign haven’t necessarily been a part of.” He’s in the thick of an uphill battle.
Among Latino voters, 60 percent are registered Democrats, 20 percent are Republicans, 20 percent are registered decline-to-state. GOP consultants say a Republican candidate typically needs the support of at least a third of Latino voters to win a statewide race.
Diego Silva’s a 25-year-old Cal State L.A. grad who figured he’d work for Whitman before he heads to graduate school. “My name is Diego Silva. I’m the Los Angeles Latino field representative. We’re here in unincorporated East Los Angeles doing some precinct walks – walking around the neighborhoods.”
When asked if he was a diehard Republican, Silva said, “Diehard? No, not so much. Definitely agree with some of the viewpoints, especially on the fiscal and monetary sides, especially on government. A little bit more moderate on the social views and all that.”
He says it’s not easy to campaign door-to-door in this working class neighborhood off the 60 Freeway – even wearing a popular Kobe Bryant T-shirt that attracts a few hoots and hollers. Solicitors aren’t always welcome. “Let alone the Meg Whitman campaign or anything along Republican lines or anything like that.”
Whitman’s sought to reach out to Latino voters by saying she’s best equipped to create jobs, would oppose an Arizona-style immigration law in California, and with endorsements from people like Reverend Samuel Rodriquez, a nationally prominent Latino evangelical leader based in Sacramento. Silva and his walking partner have records that show where the few Republicans in the area live.
“Hello sir, is Claudia Garcia here?"
"Uh, she’s taking a shower."
"Oh, OK. I’m sorry. Are you her husband?"
"Oh, we’re with the Meg Whitman campaign...”
Silva hands Jaime Garcia some literature. Garcia’s worried about the economy, but immigration hits a nerve with him and he raises the matter of Whitman’s undocumented housekeeper. “I actually would side with the housekeeper," said Garcia. "I feel that she probably was undocumented. But until the point where Meg Whitman wanted to become governor, she had to cut her ties, and if not it would come back to haunt her.”
Garcia wished Whitman would have helped her housekeeper become legal, and would support a path for legalization for undocumented people. It also doesn’t help that former Governor Pete Wilson, who many Latinos remember as the man who sought to deny illegal immigrants social services in the 1990s, is her campaign chair.
Still, Garcia expressed skepticism about the way the housekeeper’s story surfaced. When asked if he thought Jerry Brown was behind it, Garcia said, “I think he has something to do with it. And I’m sure it helps him out.”
The 41-year-old communications engineer hasn’t made up his mind in this race. The tone of the campaign ads bothers him. “Let’s talk about the good. I mean what have they done for the good? I’m tired of the negative portion. Let’s deal with the positive portion. What’s best for California?”
Silva’s mostly listening as Jaime Garcia’s brother comes to the door. He’s more worried about jobs. Alex Garcia, a lifelong Democrat, tells the canvasser he worries that Whitman –who was willing to outsource jobs overseas when she headed eBay – will apply the same philosophy to the governor’s office.
“The government can’t be run like a business because obviously the government is not for profit," said Alex Garcia. "So I don’t she has the experience to do something different for California. I don’t even think Jerry Brown can do it too, but if I have to put my money, it would be Jerry Brown.”
“Yeah," said Diego Silva, "you know she comes from the private sector and whatnot, but somebody who did what she did with eBay, you take somebody with that personality and overall character, I think she can adapt herself and do something good with Sacramento.”
As the sun beats down on this hot Saturday afternoon, Garcia and Silva agree on one thing.
“This country needs something different," said Alex Garcia, "‘cause the course that we’re headed right now, it’s scary.”
“Definitely. It affects all of us. Not just East L.A., not just one city," said Silva. "But hey, thanks for your time.”
“Hey, you guys want water or anything to drink?" said Alex Garcia. “Oh we’re fine," said Silva. "But stop by the office and maybe we can swing your vote," Silva said, laughing.
With that, Diego Silva heads to the next house with a registered Republican. It’s a block away.
"Hey. We’re looking for Robert Salazar. He is a registered voter..."