View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Sunday, August 15, 2004

Salazar and the Hispanic Vote 

Pete Coors was successful in the primary in part because his GOTV efforts targeted general election voters, in addition to traditional primary voters. This is why he won by the margin he did, and it's also why the Republican turnout was so high. It explains why the polls had it dead even - they polled only traditional primary voters.

Salazar will almost certainly try to do the same thing in the general election with Hispanic voters. They don't show up on the voter rolls now, and won't until much later in the cycle, when the voter registration drives take over. This means that they also won't show up in the polling, since the pollsters don't know how to find them. It's part of what will make Salazar a formidable candidate, although not, I don't think, and invincible one.

Salazar is making a much bigger deal of his Hispanicity this time than he has in the past. Barely an article goes by without mentioning it, and the Hispanic media has picked up the theme, too:

With "immense pride," state Attorney General Ken Salazar on Wednesday morning became Colorado's official Democratic candidate for the Senate.

"I'm proud to be the first Hispanic nominated as a candidate for the Senate, and I'm even prouder because my brother John is a candidate for the House of Representatives," Salazar told EFE at his campaign headquarters in downtown Denver.


Salazar plans to spend the weekend with his wife, Esperanza, and daughters in the ranch that has been in his family for five generations in Valle de San Luis in southern Colorado.

"And then it will be a lot of hard work until Nov. 2, when I hope my brother John and I will win to really fill all Hispanics with pride," he said.

In fact, Salazar has been slowly raising the Hispanic profile in his biography, and laying the groundwork for this, for at least 6 years. A Lexis-Nexis search turned up only 2 relevant articles in the 6 months prior to his 1998 Attorney General victory. According to the October 26, 1998 Rocky,

Salazar is campaigning in Hispanic neighborhoods and plans to run ads on Spanish-language radio stations. But, Salazar said, he is not spending more time on Hispanics than he is on other communities. Hispanic areas will get the same campaign literature as other communities, rather than a Spanish-language version, he said.

Salazar was counting on his Hispanic background, but wasn't yet willing to make a public issue of it. In fact, he ran ahead of Gail Schoettler, whom Bill Owens narrowly defeated for Governor that year. Fred Brown discussed the matter post-election (Nov. 23) for the Post:

U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a Republican, made an effort to shore up his already existing appeal to Latinos, and it helped him win by a huge margin.

His Democratic opponent, Dottie Lamm, suffered from lingering suspicion of some of the views of her husband, former Gov. Dick Lamm, who wanted to discourage immigration and encourage the speaking of English.

In the governor's race, if Hispanics had voted for Democrat Gail Schoettler in the same numbers that they voted for her fellow Democrat, Salazar, she would have overcome Bill Owens' narrow 7,800-vote margin of victory.

Paul Sandoval, whom Salazar calls "the dean" of Hispanic political strategists in Colorado, notes that Salazar won 10,700 more votes than Schoettler did in four heavily Hispanic areas - the San Luis Valley, where Salazar's roots go back four generations, Pueblo, west Denver and Adams County.

In Denver, the state's most ethnically diverse large population, Schoettler won 62 percent of the vote, while Salazar won 70 percent. In every one of the state's nine most-Hispanic precincts - four in Denver and five in Pueblo - Salazar outpolled both Schoettler and Lamm.

Note the comment about Dottie Lamm. It's important, because four years later, Amendment 31 was on the ballot. Amendment 31 would have essentially ridded Colorado of bilingual education. Salazar took a very public stand against the measure:

Thursday, Attorney General Ken Salazar announced his opposition.

"I do think it's important for our children to learn English in as timely and as efficient a manner as possible," Salazar said. "But I don't think this amendment is the way to go."

He said the amendment would take away choice from parents and authority from elected school boards.

Salazar, the state's highest-ranking Hispanic politician, grew up speaking English and Spanish in the San Luis Valley. But he said he doesn't see Amendment 31 as a Hispanic issue, adding it will affect all schools.

Rocky Mountain News, September 13, 2002

A Lexis-Nexis search for 2002 reveals about 5 relevant stories before the election, specifically mentioning Salazar and the Hispanic vote. In a major story on the Hispanic vote (Rocky, August 27, 2002), Salazar is the only living politician mentioned by name, although both parties' efforts are highlighted. Other stories mention his association with Hispanic voter registration drives.

This year, he's been even more outspoken on the issue, and apparently believes that it's his ace in the hole. He also believes that, having run and won elections by appealing primarily to white voters, he can now appeal to Hispanics without threatening that success.

Cross-Posted at Salazar v. Coors.

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