KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) — Her Latin American background is clear in her speech as Lynnette Acosta talks about how President Barack Obama’s health care plan could help a diabetic neighbor.
“La familia es bien importante para el presidente Obama. Y e?l sabe que familias que son luchadores a veces lo han perdido todo porque alguien en la familia se enfermo?,” Acosta says in an Obama campaign ad. The English translation: “Family is very important to President Obama. And he understands that families that are fighters sometimes have lost everything when someone gets sick.”
The upbeat ad starring a Florida resident is one of several such spots the Democrat’s team is running on Spanish-language stations in pivotal election states, and it contrasts sharply with the hard-hitting commercials in English that the incumbent’s campaign is airing against Republican rival Mitt Romney.
With the lighter tone, Obama hopes to shore up what polls indicate is a large lead over Romney among Hispanics. They are the nation’s fastest growing minority group, usually a reliable Democratic voting bloc that’s causing consternation for Republicans trying to position their party for the future.
Obama is reinforcing his advantage with a sizable Spanish language TV and radio ad campaign in some of states expected to be among the most contested in the general election. On this front, he is vastly outspending Romney in a race that could be decided by thin margins in many states.
“It makes sense for Obama to run nice ads in Spanish that only Latinos watch. It’s a way of saying, `We’re the candidate and the party that respect you,'” said Marc Campos, a Texas-based Democratic strategist who produces campaign commercials targeting Hispanics. “When they see positive, feel-good ads in their native language it reinforces the notion that this administration is working on their behalf.”
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released last month found Obama leading Romney among Hispanic voters by a margin of 61-27 percent. It’s a gap so wide that for now at least, Obama’s campaign is running positive ads designed to boost confidence in the president among Hispanics rather than to discredit Romney.
The Obama campaign has spent $1.7 million since mid-April on Spanish language ads in Florida, Nevada and Colorado, according to SMG-Delta, a media firm that tracks campaign advertising. Obama carried all three states in 2008 against Republican John McCain; all are closely contested this time.
Romney’s campaign, by contrast, has spent just $33,000 on Spanish language ads in television markets in North Carolina and Ohio. Republican-leaning independent groups spending heavily for Romney in swing states have yet to run general election ads aimed at Hispanics.
Romney’s campaign aired Spanish language ads bashing then-rival Newt Gingrich in Florida before the state’s primary in January. While Republicans insist they can make inroads among Hispanic voters with a sharp focus on jobs and the economy, Romney’s call for tougher border control measures and his endorsement of a controversial Arizona immigration law during the primaries will make it difficult for him to narrow the gap with Obama among Hispanics, observers say.
“Latinos were bashed during the primary, especially on immigration,” Campos said. “They don’t live in a vacuum. They’ve heard what Romney has to say.”
Romney hasn’t given up on Hispanic voters. His campaign this past week announced Juntos con Romney, a Hispanic leadership team led by Carlos Gutierrez, commerce secretary under President George W. Bush. Bush won 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in his 2004 re-election campaign over Democrat John Kerry, but only 31 percent of Hispanics supported McCain in 2008.
“The Hispanic community has been especially hard-hit by President Obama’s policies,” Gutierrez said in a statement. “Mitt Romney has a proven record of creating jobs both in the private sector and as governor.”
Privately, Republicans say Romney isn’t likely to carry the Hispanic vote in swing states. But they insist he can take them by, in part, trimming Obama’s margin among Hispanic voters rather than winning it outright.
In Florida, which Obama carried by 3 percentage points in 2008, the campaign is running three separate Spanish language ads in the Miami, Tampa and Orlando metropolitan markets. Each ad focuses on health care and features volunteers with connections to the local community.
Acosta, a 33-year old information technology specialist and Orlando resident, responded to a call for Spanish speaking volunteers to audition to appear in an ad. She submitted a video she took with her iPhone to the Obama campaign and was cast soon after.
“The ads are very positive in their information – they are about connecting to Hispanic voters in a personal way,” Acosta said. “From the comments I’ve heard, people who have seen them believe the campaign is about normal everyday people like me. It really does come across as being genuine.”
In the commercial, Acosta visits the home of Cyril McInniss, a neighbor with diabetes. She tells McInniss that under Obama’s health care plan, he won’t be denied insurance coverage because of an existing medical condition.
In Kissimmee, an Orlando suburb home to a large Hispanic community, many voters said they had seen Obama’s Spanish language ads or heard them on the radio.
Liz Valdes, 46, a local hairdresser, said the ads had left her unmoved and said she plans to vote for Romney.
“I know he’s trying to fix everything someone else messed up. But he’s raised taxes on everyone, not just the rich people and it isn’t fair,” Valdes, a Puerto Rico native, said of Obama. “I definitely plan to vote in November, but it won’t be for him. We’ve got to get him out of there.”
But Deion Barrios, 18, who helps his parents manage the O Que Bueno Colombian restaurant, said the ads had reinforced his decision to cast his first vote for Obama in November.
“Obama’s definitely helping with the whole health care thing,” Barrios said. “He’s not able to do what he can right now, because the government is still being run by Republicans. But we need to give him another chance. He can probably turn the economy around if he wins another term.”
CREDIT: BETH FOUHY Associated Press