- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 9, 2012

Polls show President Obama holds a clear advantage among Hispanic voters this year, but a new Spanish-language television ad, running in Nevada and sponsored by a conservative group, aims to peel away those supporters by arguing that his administration set records for deporting illegal immigrants.

It’s a message that could backfire if it were in English — deporting illegal immigrants is a popular stance in many conservative communities. But English-speaking voters likely will never see the ad, which is running on two major Spanish-language networks in Las Vegas.

The Hispanic ad market is one of the least-studied but among the most important in politics.

“Our goal was to come up with an ad that would really engage Latino voters and make them think,” said Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Values, which is affiliated with Nevada Hispanics, the group running the ads.

Mr. Aguilar said Mr. Obama has not lived up to campaign promises to sign legislation granting illegal immigrants a path to citizenship. The ad says the president is not interested in Hispanic issues and “only wants our vote.”

Indeed, Mr. Obama has set records for deportations, removing about 400,000 immigrants each year for the past three years. That figure has drawn fierce fire from immigrant rights activists.

But advocates said they hoped Hispanics won’t buy the ads’ message, saying there’s no comparison when the choice is between Mr. Obama and likely Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

“When a Republican-leaning group runs an ad on immigration that tries to pretend a Republican administration would somehow be different, it just doesn’t pass the laugh test,” said Lynn Tramonte, deputy director of America’s Voice Education Fund. “If I were them, I wouldn’t keep spending money on this type of advertisement.”

Mr. Obama continues to do well among Hispanic voters, with a 63 percent approval rating in the Gallup tracking poll — nearly 20 points above his national average.

Neither the Obama campaign nor the Romney campaign responded to requests for comment on the campaign’s state of play on Spanish-language airwaves.

Tailoring messages to an audience is common. It’s often a matter of geography — talking corn in Iowa, for example. Other times it’s issues-based, such as when Mr. Obama called for common ground on abortion at Notre Dame University’s graduation ceremony in 2009, or when Mr. Romney spoke to Hispanic leaders in Florida this year and focused on expanding legal immigration.

But language adds another wrinkle because it can send a message to one community without necessarily reaching the broader voting public.

The Spanish-language ads also fall outside of some disclosure requirements, such as the new rule that requires the major networks in the country’s top 50 markets to post all ad contracts online. Those rules don’t apply to Spanish-language networks, even though in cities with large Hispanic audiences such as Los Angeles and Miami, the English-language networks regularly trail their Spanish-speaking counterparts in ratings.

Like the conservative deportation ad, Mr. Obama’s allies are taking advantage of the language barrier by running an ad last month in Spanish that tried to contrast Mr. Romney’s refusal to release more the past two years of his tax returns to his support for state laws requiring immigrants to demonstrate that they are in the country legally.

“He wants us to show him our papers. But he doesn’t show us his,” the ad says in Spanish. “How can we trust Mitt Romney?”

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