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Candidates Woo Hispanics, African-Americans in California

Candidates in this year's presidential election are targeting the growing number of minority voters in an effort to build a winning coalition. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, Democrats are courting African-Americans and Hispanics in California, a state where the minority vote can make a difference.

One in three Californians is Hispanic, and Hispanics, or Latinos, as they are called here, make up 14 percent of likely voters, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

Hispanics can make a difference in the southwest, where most vote Democratic, and their support is important in the race for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination.

A group called Vote Latino is using ads on a political website called Declare Yourself to urge young Hispanics to register to vote. One is a mock drama that shows a beautiful young woman rejecting a handsome suitor because he is not politically active.

(WOMAN) "So how come you're not registered to vote?"

(MAN) "I just … I've never really gotten around to registering to vote."

(WOMAN) "But it's so easy."

In Nevada, Senator Hillary Clinton won the Democratic caucuses January 19 with help from Hispanic voters, who supported her by a margin of more than two to one. Eighty percent of African-Americans supported Senator Barack Obama.

According to a poll published Tuesday by the Los Angeles Times, Clinton holds a two-to-one lead over Obama among Hispanics in California. A survey last week by the Field Poll organization showed Obama leading among African-Americans by more than 30 per cent.

Political scientist Raphael Sonenshein of California State University, Fullerton, says both groups are important in this election.

Sonenshein says Latinos have a relationship with Hillary Clinton dating back to her husband's eight years as president. She has also received the endorsement of Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

More than 20 states, including California, Arizona and New Mexico, are holding primaries and caucuses February 5, known as Super Tuesday. Sonenshein says this year's compressed primary schedule hurts Obama, who is not as well known as Clinton, and faces additional hurdles as an African American.

"This is the whole experience we've had with black candidates throughout modern times is that as voters who are not black became more familiar with the candidate, they were more likely to vote for them. And time is short for Obama because these states are coming up so quickly all at once with a large Latino population. Hillary has that huge advantage of familiarity," he said.

Political analyst and civic activist Joe Hicks, of the group Community Advocates, agrees that race and ethnicity could play a role in the California primaries. Hicks is African-American and a Republican. He does not support any Democratic candidate, but blames the Clinton camp for injecting race into the campaign in what he sees as an effort to marginalize Obama as a minority candidate. Some Clinton supporters, including former president Bill Clinton, respond by saying Obama and his backers raised the issue of race.

Hicks believes the candidates should rise above racial divisions and focus on such issues as the economy, security and immigration.

Latino community worker Randy Jurado Ertll heads a social service center called El Centro de Accion Social in Pasadena, California. He agrees the candidates should focus on the major issues rather than race and ethnicity.

He says it is not enough for Hillary Clinton to come to East Los Angeles and eat Mexican tacos, or for Obama to shout political slogans in Spanish. He says Latinos have special concerns over such issues as immigration, but otherwise share the hopes and worries of other Americans. He offers this advice to those who want the Latino vote.

"Either candidate, from the Democratic or the Republican party, I think what they need to do is appeal more to the broad issues that impact all Americans, and not get stuck in trying to make promises to either community. I think we need to get them to commit to creating more jobs for the Latino community, to helping kids not join gangs by creating better public school districts throughout the United States."

Spanish media outlets are following the primaries and have noted the victors in Florida, Republican John McCain and Democrat Hillary Clinton.

The candidates are making their appeals in English and Spanish-language television ads.

Political scientist Sonenshein says the candidacies of Clinton and Obama have brought the complicating factors of gender and race into the campaign, and no one knows the potential impact. He says the issue of religion adds an unpredictable element to the Republican race with Mitt Romney, a Mormon, as a major candidate.