Obama homes in on Latino vote to close gap

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The Independent US

Two days to go before the onslaught of Super Tuesday and Barack Obama's campaign has suddenly gone Spanish.

"Si se puede, si se puede!" the candidate chanted to introduce himself at a town hall meeting at Los Angeles technical college – echoing the famous farmworkers' union slogan from the 1960s and 1970s: "Yes we can!"

Just 24 hours later, Senator Obama's surrogate, Senator Ted Kennedy, was mangling Spanish at another heavily Latino college in California: "Un voto por Obama es un voto para la gente!" A vote for Obama is a vote for the people.

The reason for the Latin tilt to the campaign isn't hard to fathom. Hillary Clinton leads Mr Obama among Latinos by a margin as wide as three to one in some western states and, in his effort to roar back in time for the single most important date in the primary calendar, he is doing everything he can to close that gap.

In California, the most populous, most delegate-rich Super Tuesday state, the effort has already begun to pay off, with endorsements from the 650,000-strong service workers' union and the head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labour – both organisations well known for their abilities to mobilise members, often Latino, on election day.

Until a little over a week ago, Senator Clinton enjoyed a double-digit lead in California, as she did in New York and some of the other big races, largely thanks to her dominant sway over working-class voters. John Edwards, then still in the race, enjoyed some of the big union endorsements, but she had most of the others – including the farmworkers, who campaigned more than anyone for immigrant workers' rights a generation ago.

Now, though, the picture has changed. Mrs Clinton does not appear to be expanding her support base, in California or elsewhere, while Mr Obama is relying on momentum, sheer excitement and an army of on-the-ground volunteers to win supporters one at a time.

Immigration was a big theme during Thursday night's candidates' debate in Hollywood, at which Mr Obama carefully sidestepped the question of possible competition and resentment between low-wage Latino workers, many of them in the country illegally, and low-wage African Americans whose rates are now being undercut.

In his speech at the technical college, he took a similar tack, emphasising that when he was a community organiser in Chicago he saw how the closure of local steel mills impacted on black, brown and white alike. "Everybody was in the same union, everybody was working together, working together for their children and their families," he said.

His main goal is not necessarily to win the big states on Tuesday, but to keep close enough to Mrs Clinton to keep the nomination race alive – all the way to the Denver party convention in August if necessary.

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