Fighting Over–and Pushing Down–the Latino Vote in Nevada

Controversy rages as a Latino GOP strategist urges the state's Latinos not to vote at all.

By Julianne Hing Oct 26, 2010

By now you’ve likely seen the ad, with the static crawling across the screen and the ominous music punctuated by a solemn bell, and that voice that starts off sounding so rationally:

"Democratic leaders must pay for their broken promises and betrayals," the voice says. "If we go on supporting them this November, they will keep playing games with our future and keep taking our vote for granted." 

The sentiments are honest and familiar. The ad, directed at Latino voters, plays on the community’s frustration with the lack of substantive immigration reform this year. "If they didn’t keep their promise on immigration reform then, they can’t count on our vote," the voice says.

And then comes the big whammy: "Don’t vote this November. This is the only way to send them a clear message. You can no longer take us for granted. Don’t vote."

The ad aired five times on Spanish-language radio in Nevada, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Tea Party-backed Republican Sharron Angle are locked in a dead heat, and was initially approved for television by Univision before Democrats raised a stink and got the station to rethink its original decision. Democrats accused the ad’s sponsor, Latinos for Reform, of engaging in voter suppression and irresponsibly encouraging cynicism.

The man behind Latinos for Reform is political insider Robert de Posada, a former director of Hispanic affairs for the Republican National Committee who also worked in President George W. Bush’s Department of Justice. Feet in Two Worlds reports that the treasurer for Latinos for Reform is Juan Carlos Benitez, a conservative lobbyist who fundraised for both the Bush and McCain campaigns in 2004 and 2008.

De Posada said the ad came about because he’s become frustrated with both parties–he addresses viewers directly in a follow-up video telling Latinos "not to give their vote away" and to "demand respect" when they vote. Except Latinos for Reform is a conservative 527 group with well-documented ties to the GOP. In 2008, Latinos for Reform’s top contributors were John T. Finn, a conservative publisher who also backs and Frank Dudenhefer, who was also a big contributor to McCain’s presidential run in 2008.

A recent Pew Hispanic Center study showed that Latinos tend to be registered Democrats instead of Republicans–65 percent to 22 percent, respectively. And in Nevada where the ads were originally set to run, Latinos are expected to be a crucial deciding vote in the Reid-Angle race.

Wonk Room reported last week that de Posada was so outraged the ad was pulled that he’s planning on filing an FEC complaint against Univision, charging the television station with violating his First Amendment rights. Wonk Room‘s Andrea Nill is succinct in her response: "Obviously, de Posada is delusional."

The question now is will Latino voters turn out, with or without de Posada’s encouragement?

New polls suggest that Latinos have been galvanized by the anti-immigrant race-baiting ads that Republicans have been rolling out across the country. Politico reported yesterday that about 60 percent of Latino respondents plan on voting on Nov. 2, up from 41 percent in September. However, Latinos traditionally have a lower voter turnout than other groups.

De Posada is not planning on buying any more ad time, but he’s not backing down either. He plans to keep pushing the ads online.

"We’re saying to people, you need to look at the record of the candidates and understand that in a civic engagement situation, you have the options of not necessarily voting. You should not be told you have no option but to support the lesser of two evils," de Posada told ABC News. "We need to start making people accountable for their efforts and at the same time, we cannot reward this irresponsible behavior, and a perfect example is Harry Reid."

In an interview with NPR, de Posada said he never intended to engage in any kind of voter suprression, and that he’s not necessarily a fan of Angle either.

"I think both are irresponsible, both are horrible options. But, you know what? Sharron Angle is not going to be in a leadership post," implying that Angle, with less seniority and power than Reid, is less of a threat than Senate Majority Leader Reid.

"Do you prefer to be stabbed in the back or clubbed over the head?" de Posada argued.