- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sen. Barack Obama touts that “he grew up without a father” and was “raised by his mother with the support of his grandparents” in his first Spanish-language radio ad of the general election campaign, released Wednesday and designed to portray him as sharing the same experiences as Hispanic voters.

“What this ad shows is Barack Obama not only has stood with us, whether it’s immigration reform or veterans, but he is one of us,” said Rep. Xavier Becerra, California Democrat, who spearheaded House efforts on immigration this year. “His values are our values; his experience is our experience.”

The radio ad, for which the Obama team provided an English translation, is the latest entrant in what may be the hottest political advertising war right now - the battle between Mr. Obama and his Republican opponent John McCain for Hispanic voters’ support in November’s presidential election.

While Mr. Obama’s first foray was biographical, Mr. McCain has run Spanish-language radio and TV ads highlighting his military service, his time as a prisoner of war and his commitment to work beyond party labels. Another ad featuring Frank Gamboa, his Naval Academy roommate, accuses Mr. Obama of only recently discovering the importance of the Hispanic vote.

Brian Rogers, a McCain campaign spokesman, said the Republican is making a personal appeal to Hispanic voters, having attended three major Hispanic leadership gatherings over the last month, and said his ads reflect that.

“John McCain appeals to Hispanics by talking to the issues they care about, and those issues span from low-tax, small-government policies that drive our small businesses and entrepreneurs, that are the lifeblood of our economy,” he said. “Those small business owners, a lot of them are Hispanics. They care about a whole wide range of issues from values issues, on life, on protecting marriage … to free trade, which is important to small-business owners and a lot of the states in which Hispanics are disproportionately reflected, like Florida.”

Mr. Becerra, meanwhile, said Mr. Obama’s biographical approach is likely to score well.

“Senator McCain’s ad speaks to Latinos. I think Senator Obama’s ad is part of us, and it speaks with us, because he talks about from birth to the present, how Barack’s experiences have been our experiences,” he said.

So far the two campaigns have targeted the same four states with their Spanish-language ads: New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada and Florida.

It’s become almost axiomatic among campaign consultants that if Democrat Al Gore had put more effort into Hispanic vote outreach in Florida in the 2000 presidential race, he would have won the presidency. Many Democrats also blame 2004 nominee Sen. John Kerry for repeating some of Mr. Gore’s mistakes.

But this year, both Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama have shown they are willing to spend to woo Spanish-speaking voters, said Adam J. Segal, director of Johns Hopkins University’s Hispanic Voter Project.

“In the ads, it’s primarily about biography and introducing the candidates to the largest possible Hispanic audience using the dominant themes of having been senators, and McCain having a strong representation of having been in the military and as a POW, and Obama as a community organizer and activist, having a successful career and then transitioning into public service,” he said.

He said the key question is whether Mr. McCain will use Spanish-language ads to go negative on Mr. Obama, as President Bush did against Mr. Kerry in the 2004 election on issues such as abortion and gay marriage.

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