Today, Ben Smith of Politico reported that California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman (R) reminded California Latino voters of her opposition to Arizona’s controversial immigration law in an ad set to air on the Spanish-language broadcast of today’s Mexico-France World Cup game. “The ad marks a dramatic tack a way from a primary in which Whitman was at times visibly uncomfortable with her campaign’s hard line, denying at one point — mistakenly — that her campaign was airing ads with images of a boarder fence,” writes Smith. Whitman is also taking a two-faced approach that’s straight from pages of the failed McCain-Palin playbook: say one thing in English and then turn around tell Latino voters something completely different in Spanish.
Given the fact that she co-chaired the national presidential campaign for Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) in 2008, Whitman should be pretty familiar with the McCain campaign’s disastrous Latino voter outreach strategy. However, her repetition of his mistakes suggests maybe she forgot. Before launching his presidential bid, McCain was highly regarded by the Latino community as a level-headed champion of comprehensive immigration reform. However, once McCain started running for President, his rhetoric changed. By January 2008, he was saying he wouldn’t even vote for his own immigration bill again if given the chance. However, once McCain got through the primaries he started saying something very different to the Spanish language media. In a Spanish-language ad released in September 2008, McCain suggested that then Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Democrats were not on the side of Latino voters and were responsible for killing immigration reform in 2007. However, besides referring to a piece of legislation that McCain had previously stated he would no longer support, the bill actually died when it failed to get key Republican votes. McCain left the door wide open for Obama to come back at him with an ad that highlighted the “two faces” of the Republican Party. In November, Latinos voted for Obama over McCain by a margin of more than two-to-one.
Whitman may find herself in a similar predicament. Before her race against her Republican opponent, Steve Poizner, got tight, Whitman supported immigration reform and a path to legalization for undocumented immigrants. When Poizner began portraying Whitman as soft on immigration, Whitman toughened up and told voters that she only supports a temporary worker program and more border security. And while her new ad boasts of her opposition to California’s Proposition 187 — an Arizona type law that was ultimately deemed unconstitutional — in a radio spot just a few weeks ago, she featured one of the ballot initiatives biggest proponents: former Gov. Pete Wilson (R-CA). In the ad, Wilson affirmed that Whitman will be “as tough as nails” on immigration. The ad was such a turnaround for Whitman that the California Nurses Association launched an ad on Spanish-language radio to let Latino voters know what Whitman didn’t “want you to hear.”
As Wonk Room pointed out last week, Whitman will have a hard time winning the general election without significant Latino support. While it makes sense for her to soften her stance on immigration again, she probably should’ve thought of that during the Republican primary. Whitman may not realize it, but most Latino voters in California understand Spanish and English. In fact, 33.4 to 73.5% of California’s foreign born Latino population is proficient in English.
Watch Whitman’s Spanish Language Ad: