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Hispanics defy ad to shun elections

Sponsor says bloc taken for granted

President Obama is introduced by Javier Garcia of Brownsville, Texas, before signing the Executive Order on the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. (Associated Press)President Obama is introduced by Javier Garcia of Brownsville, Texas, before signing the Executive Order on the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. (Associated Press)

A new ad urging Hispanic voters to reject both parties by sitting out this year's elections has enraged Hispanic groups, drawn condemnation from the Univision television network and spawned the question of how Hispanics who are upset over the lack of action on immigration should register a protest vote this year.

"Don't vote this November," says the ad, sponsored by Latinos for Reform. "This is the only way to send them a clear message: you can no longer take us for granted."

The ad is running in Las Vegas, where its chief target is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat who political analysts say will need a huge turnout by Hispanics if he is to turn back Republican challenger Sharron Angle.

Robert Deposada, a leader of the group, said Hispanics are angry at Republicans', but also blame Democrats, who on the strength of their party's votes pushed through health care and the stimulus package, but refused to address immigration without the GOP.

"They're obviously angry at Republican rhetoric, which in many cases has been completely irresponsible. On the other hand, they're very angry the Democratic Party has been promising for years they're going to act on this issue, and they haven't," he said. "The only option they have is basically saying you know what, I'm not going to settle for the lesser of two evils."

Mr. Reid's defenders say the ad misses the mark.

"They should take it off. It's a lie," said Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, the Illinois Democrat who has taken a leadership role on immigration since the death of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat. Mr. Gutierrez was in Nevada this week campaigning for Mr. Reid, and has made other stops in Florida and Ohio, stumping for fellow Democrats.

Univision, the country's largest Spanish-language broadcast network, said Tuesday that it won't run the ad. A spokeswoman said the network "prides itself on promoting civic engagement and our extensive national campaigns encourage Hispanics to vote."

But staying home or turning out is an age-old dilemma for many voters, and both parties can point to elections they suspect they lost because some segment of voters who thought they were being taken for granted didn't turn out in full force.

Hispanics, fueled by massive voter registration drives, saw major surges in turnout in 2006 and 2008, but action on immigration has lagged. A bill failed to pass the Senate in 2007, and President Obama failed to make good on his campaign pledge of signing a bill early in his tenure.

That has left Hispanic leaders this year grappling with how to translate their growing strength into political gains - and some fear they risk being taken for granted by Democrats. That was a key message in March, when tens of thousands of immigrants and their supporters amassed on the Mall for a rally in Washington.

"President Obama, members of Congress, do not mess with us," said Mary Rose Wilcox, a member of the Maricopa County, Ariz., Board of Supervisors.

Mr. Gutierrez earlier this year suggested that Hispanics might stay home to protest lack of action, but he said Tuesday that Mr. Reid has earned their support.

"Democrats have not delivered on immigration reform nationally, but to attack Harry Reid in Nevada makes no sense whatsoever," he said. "Sen. Harry Reid has been a stalwart ally fighting for sensible immigration policies and for working people, immigrants, Latinos, and families."

Brent A. Wilkes, executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said the ad campaign should, and will, backfire.

"I think there's a case to be made the Democrats didn't push hard enough and didn't push early enough," he said. "But they didn't, and so the question now is: Are you going to intentionally throw interceptions so the other team wins, because you're mad at your coach, or are you going to go out and play the best game you can?"

A poll of Hispanics conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center and released earlier this month found low enthusiasm. Only about half of Hispanic registered voters said they were eager about the election, compared with 70 percent of voters in general.

Mr. Wilkes said lack of action on immigration, the passage of Arizona's strict immigration law, and a generally sour economy have taken their toll on Hispanics. But he said lack of enthusiasm doesn't mean they won't turn out to vote. He said those voters instead are coming to understand the realities of the legislative process.

It's not the first time Mr. Deposada has urged Hispanics to sit out a civic responsibility. He was one of a handful of Hispanic leaders who called for a boycott of this year's census count.

Mr. Deposada said Mr. Reid makes a good target for the ad campaign not only because he's a top Democratic leader, but also because he made a futile effort to attach the DREAM Act, which would legalize illegal immigrant students, to the defense policy bill just before Congress left town last month.

"He knew, and he said it openly in the media, he didn't have the votes for it. So basically what he was saying is, 'I'm going to bring this to a vote just so I can tell people I tried to do something,' " Mr. Deposada said. "That sort of irresponsible behavior should not be rewarded by Latinos."

But Mr. Gutierrez and other Reid supporters said not voting would be tantamount to helping Mrs. Angle, the Republican in the race who has run ads warning of the dangers of illegal immigration.

Reid spokesman Kelly Steele questioned Mr. Deposada's motives.

"This Republican front group, which fought for President Bush's failed attempt to dismantle Social Security, is engaged in the most abhorrent tactics imaginable - pretending they're concerned about immigration reform when their only real agenda is to lie to Nevadans about their beliefs to suppress the voices of Latinos throughout our state," Mr. Steele said.

Mr. Obama tried to assure Hispanic voters that he hasn't forgotten his promises.

In a White House ceremony on Tuesday, he signed an executive order promoting Hispanic education, and he made a specific appeal for Congress to pass the DREAM Act.

"I have supported this bill for years, and I'll do everything it takes to sign it into law on behalf of students seeking a college education and those who wish to serve in our country's uniform," he said.

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