A McCain supporter at September rally.

(WOMENSENEWS)–New York-based Latina PAC, supporter of Sen. Barack Obama, and Washington-based Latinas for McCain are doing what they can for their candidates in the final weeks of the presidential campaign.

But of the two, Latina PAC appears to have the easier job.

A Gallup poll conducted Oct. 6-12 shows Obama leading with 60 percent of Hispanics’ support compared to Sen. John McCain’s 31 percent.

Latina PAC endorsed Hillary Clinton in February but shifted their political rigging earlier this month when 99 members voted to endorse Obama.

Members took the summer to review the rules for political action committees to make sure they could change their endorsement, said Latina PAC board member Elizabeth Caldas. The time also allowed members to review Obama’s policies and recover from Clinton’s loss.

“I think it was a bit of a transition,” Caldas said. “We still adore her.”

More than 75 percent of Latinos who voted for Clinton said they would now back Obama, a higher proportion than among non-Hispanic Clinton supporters, according to a July 24 report from the Washington-based Pew Hispanic Center. The report’s polling was conducted June 9 through July 13 after Clinton’s exit from the race.

The outreach in the final weeks of the campaign has followed earlier get-out-the-vote drives targeting Latino voters. “Ya es Hora, Ve y Vote,” (“It’s Time, Go Vote”) was launched last year by the Washington-based civil rights group National Council of La Raza, Spanish language broadcaster Univision and the Los Angeles-based National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

The Denver-based Latina Initiative specifically targeted Hispanic women and has registered more than 4,000 voters since 2002.

Actress Rosario Dawson co-founded the nonpartisan Washington-based group Voto Latino to register voters. At the Republican National Convention Dawson emphasized the importance of government policies that target women in an interview with Women’s eNews.

“If we don’t take care of our women we don’t have a future,” Dawson said, adding that Hispanic women are particularly vulnerable to poverty and abuse.

Converting Clinton Supporters

Although a majority of Latinos who supported Clinton have shifted course, Latina PAC is working to seal the deal for Obama in the final days before the election.

“We are true Hillary supporters that know that his vision and her vision are very close,” said Latina PAC member Leslie Ramos. “He’s going to address the issue of education that is important to the Latino community.”

The Clintons enjoy much wider name recognition with the Hispanic community than Obama, due in part to Hillary Clinton’s work on voter registration drives in Latino neighborhoods in Texas as far back as 1972, when she began her political career working on George McGovern’s presidential campaign. The iconic union leader Dolores Huerta emphasized Clinton’s connection to the Hispanic community during the primaries.

Latinas’ votes contributed to Clinton’s crucial narrow wins in Texas, New Mexico and California.

However, Huerta coined the phrase “Si se puede,” or “Yes we can,” that became the mantra of the Obama campaign and now she backs Obama. So does Academy Award-nominated actress Rosie Perez, who appeared at Obama rallies this month in Florida and Ohio.

During the primaries, Obama garnered Hispanic politicians’ endorsements, such as Pete Gallego, a Texas state representative and chair of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus who supported him before the March primary there. Obama also garnered the early support of New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who endorsed him on March 21 before Clinton conceded her race. Many Clinton supporters waited until later in the primaries to back Obama.

Education Policy Emphasis

Ramos believes Obama will make education a higher priority than McCain. On its Web site, Latina PAC lists as priorities narrowing the achievement gap for Latino children, decreasing the high school dropout rate and improving access to higher education. Members say they’re satisfied with Obama’s commitment to these issues.

In its main outreach initiative, each Saturday before the election Latina PAC is busing about a dozen members to Latino neighborhoods in Allentown, Pa., to tell voters in Spanish why they should support Obama. Allentown is a target because of its heavy Hispanic population and Pennsylvania’s status as a battleground state.

On Oct. 18, during a weekend dedicated to mobilizing Hispanic support for Obama, Latina PAC ran a phone bank in New York that placed calls to voters in Florida, another battleground state. Ramos said that at one table women called 249 Floridians to remind them that early voting there began Oct. 20.

At a Latina PAC presidential debate watch party in Manhattan on Oct. 7, Caldas said the economy is the main issue on everyone’s minds.

“It’s going to affect all of us,” she said. She said Obama’s economic policies match the priorities Latina PAC lists in its political agenda: increasing the number of small business loans given to Latinas, mentoring Latinas in the business and entrepreneurial arenas, and addressing poverty rates and single-parent households.

Founded in 2004, Latina PAC is one of the only political action committees in the country that is geared to Hispanic women. It is the first Latina-focused political action committee in the New York metro area.

Ramos said volunteers expect to encounter rumors about Obama, such as those depicting him as unpatriotic or Muslim.

“We are ready to debunk those misconceptions if they come up,” she said.

Reaching Out for McCain

Laura Drain, co-chair of the Virginia chapter of Latinas for McCain, is also spending the last few weeks before the election calling undecided voters in her area.

Her main question for Hispanics who say they are supporting Obama: “How can you say that?”

Virginia’s Hispanic population is 16th largest in the nation. Latinos make up 6 percent of the state’s population and 3 percent of the voting electorate.

She says she often challenges people who assume that Obama opposes abortion. “They are the nicer people; they are the ones that make change,” Drain said of the Obama campaign. “But when we talk about what they are doing, I’m really concerned.”

Drain and some friends from the Hispanic Professional Women’s Association, a Washington-based group of female business executives, formed their chapter in March.

Another member, Maricruz MaGowan, said they came together at first as a nonpartisan discussion group focused on the presidential candidates. But then the group turned out to be solidly in favor of McCain.

“We have all sorts of professional women all supporting McCain-Palin, and that’s what unifies us,” said MaGowan.

The group is canvassing in the Washington, D.C., area and phoning voters. MaGowan says the group is not targeting Latinas, but she nonetheless often winds up speaking to many Hispanics, particularly women, in Spanish. “There are two connections, not only the language, but the gender,” she said.

MaGowen said McCain’s Republican polices match Hispanic values. In addition to opposing abortion, she said she wants to elect someone who supports traditional family life, national security and a strong defense for the country.

“We worry about our country,” MaGowen said of Latinas. “That’s who we are, strong women and strong values.”

Alison Bowen is a New York City-based reporter covering the presidential campaign for Women’s eNews. Her work also appears in the New York Daily News.

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