Maria Schnabel

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Note to candidates: It’s the Hispanic media, stupid!

The U.S. Hispanic media, through which many of the country’s 50 million Latinos get their news, will play an important role in the 2012 presidential election, not only because of its reach but also because of its huge influence on Hispanic voters.

The candidates’ ability to work effectively with the Hispanic media, which tends to take an advocacy approach to news reporting of Hispanic issues such as immigration, will be critical.

“The Hispanic media is more aggressive in getting at the heart of the issue than mainstream media,” said Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the non-partisan Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO).

As a case in point, in separate interviews today of Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich for Univision’s Sunday morning newsmagazine Al Punto, anchor Jorge Ramos devoted most of the interview to grilling the candidates on how they would handle the immigration issue.

“The anti-immigration stand is working for the Republican base,” according to Democratic political strategist and political commentator Maria Cardona. “The Hispanic media response to that is by advocating for their community. Many are engaged in public education campaigns to get people to register and vote. Univision and the Hispanic media are advocating for the Hispanic community.  They are taking a stand.”

According to Gonzalez and Cardona, the key issue that Hispanic voters and the Hispanic media are focusing on is comprehensive immigration reform.

“Polls show that, while for Hispanics jobs and the economy is the number one issue, just like it is for the general population, immigration is a filter issue,” said Cardona.

With more than 10 million Hispanics expected to vote in 2012, the Hispanic vote is going to be a key deciding factor, if not the deciding factor, in the presidential election, according to Cardona.

Indicative of the growing impact of the Hispanic community, on Jan. 23 FOX International Channels announced it will launch a new Hispanic channel in the fall of 2012.  According to Fox News, MundoFOX “will aim to bring a similar sensibility as the Fox Network to Latino audiences.”

Among all the U.S Hispanic media, Univision, which maintains a declared pro-immigration stand, is the largest and most trusted news outlet.  It competes with the three major English-language broadcast networks (ABC, CBS and NBC) and in 2011 was the only network among the top five to see an increase in audience (6 percent), according to a PEW report on Hispanic media.

The New Yorker, which on Jan. 9 ran an extensive story on a controversy involving Univision news and Florida’s junior senator Marco Rubio (Rep.), said that “according to Univision’s news president, Isaac Lee, the network is openly committed to ‘pro-Hispanic’ immigration reform, and it has a particular slant on the news: a dog biting any man is not a story, but a dog biting a Hispanic man is.”

Univision’s hugely popular anchor Jorge Ramos, author of A Country for All: An Immigrant Manifesto, is a frequent commentator on the issue of immigration in the media and on Twitter to more than 277,000 followers.  First word on Ramos’ Twitter profile: inmigrante (immigrant).

As he said in a Jan. 18, 2012, editorial in La Opinion, the nation’s oldest Hispanic newspaper, “For us Latinos, immigration is not an abstract question. We all know, live and interact daily with undocumented immigrants. They are our friends, our neighbors and our co-workers; they are our uncles and partners, they go to school with our children. We love them and they love us.  That’s why attacking them is tantamount to attacking us.”

“Hispanics came out in droves for the last presidential campaign. It will not be different this year,” Cardona predicted.  In the 2008 presidential election, Barack Obama received 67 percent of the Hispanic vote while John McCain received 31 percent.  She noted that since 2004, no Republican candidate can win the presidency with less than 40 percent of the Hispanic vote. “Today, Romney gets 25 percent and Gingrich 22 percent.”

With so much weight in the hands of a segment of the population, the candidates started their outreach early, hiring national Hispanic outreach experts and airing TV commercials in Spanish.  The Romney and Gingrich campaigns are airing commercials in Spanish in Florida in anticipation of that state’s Jan. 31 Republican primary.

But, given the scrutiny by Hispanic media of the candidates’ stand on the immigration issue, it will take more than in-language ads to sway Latino voters.  This may explain why, on Jan. 27, Romney issued a press release announcing the formation of his Hispanic steering committee.

“Ads in Spanish are one thing, but the Hispanic community is much more savvy and pays attention to the nuances,” said Gonzalez, whose organization is working to register 80 thousand in Hispanics in Georgia so they can vote in a state that has open primaries.

“Immigration is an issue of respect,” said Gonzalez.  How a candidate talks about comprehensive immigration reform “says a lot about how respectful they may be to the Hispanic community.”

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