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Commentary: Latinos will vote for Obama

  • Story Highlights
  • New surveys show Obama beating McCain with Latino voters 62-29 percent
  • In primaries Latinos voted for Clinton "brand" -- not against Barack Obama
  • Navarrette predicts Obama will beat McCain with Latino voters in general election
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By Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Special to CNN
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SAN DIEGO, California (CNN) -- For the last six months, one of the media's most convenient -- and offensive -- narratives has been that Latinos wouldn't vote for Barack Obama because they refused to support an African-American for president.

Ruben Navarrette says more Latino voters will support Barack Obama than John McCain in the general election.

Pundits, columnists and bloggers agreed and offered outlandish explanations mentioning everything from the turf wars between Latino and African-American gangs in U.S. cities to the fact that Latin America is full of countries where race and skin color can determine social mobility.

Well, what do you know? Now, it seems Latinos will support Obama after all -- meaning that everything you've heard to the contrary up to now is rubbish.

A new Gallup Poll summary of surveys taken in May shows Obama winning 62 percent of Latino voters nationwide, compared with 29 percent for McCain. The pro-Democratic group Democracy Corps compiled surveys from March through May that showed Obama with a 19-point lead among Latinos. And a Los Angeles Times poll last month showed Obama leading McCain by 14 points among Latinos in California.

I'm not surprised. As I have been writing for months, Latinos haven't been voting against Barack Obama as much as they've been voting for Hillary Clinton. Give the senator from New York credit. She took full advantage of Obama's late start in courting Latino voters, and she had the benefit of what remains a popular brand with Latinos: Clinton, Inc.

Even so, while Obama got trounced by Clinton in the competition for Latino voters in California, Texas, New York, he kept the contest close in Arizona, Utah, New Mexico. And he won the Latino vote in Colorado, Connecticut, Virginia.

But, in the last several weeks, as it became clear that Obama was on his way to securing the Democratic nomination and that Clinton's campaign was running out of gas, Latinos seem to have migrated to Obama. Now that the Illinois senator has become the presumptive nominee, and Hillary has suspended her campaign and endorsed him, Latinos really have only two choices -- go with Obama, or vote for John McCain.

Choice No. 2 is not such a bad option. McCain would make an excellent president. And, in fact, I suspect that, when all is said and done, many Latinos -- perhaps as much as 35 percent -- will put their support behind him. Not because they have anything against Obama, but because McCain has -- for more than 15 years and long before the immigration issue became prominent -- had an outstanding record of reaching out to Latino voters, earning as much as 70 percent of the Latino vote in his Senate re-election campaigns in Arizona.

But make no mistake, when all is said and done, Obama will win the votes of a majority of Latinos. Ironically, he's going to benefit in the general election from the same thing that made it tough for him to win Latinos votes against Clinton in the primary: brand loyalty. This time, the brand is the Democratic Party, and with just one Democrat on the ballot, that's where most Latinos will put their support.

Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a member of the editorial board of the San Diego Union-Tribune and a nationally syndicated columnist. Read his column here.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.

All About Barack ObamaHillary ClintonJohn McCainHispanic and Latino Issues

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