First Lady Michelle Obama has kicked her Latina outreach and mobilization efforts into high gear. However, the potential first lady to be, Ann Romney has been absent from any high-profile, or even low-profile, outreach to Latinas. In fact, Latina magazine’s political columnist, Viviana Hurtado, called Mrs. Romney out on this in an open letter,
“Mrs. Obama is one heck of an asset, as are you. One of the best things you could do is convince the campaign to sit you down to chat with Latinas. We can read on the website how your husband will fix the economy, bring down the federal deficit, and create more jobs. But what if we were able to interact with and hear it from you?”
It is surprising to see the Romney campaign not turn to Mrs. Romney in their development of Latino mobilization. Because, as we know from research, Latinas themselves aren’t just more likely to vote, they are also likely to have a strong influence on their family and close friends to become politically involved. Mrs. Romney could be an important asset to the campaign if she could develop a connection even if it weren’t a directly political one, but at least a personal one.
Michelle Obama has highlighted the issues of nutritional health, in particular childhood obesity. This is an issue that affects us all, but that is particularly relevant to the black and Latino community. While not Latina herself, Mrs. Obama has forged a strong relationship with Latinas through this issue and through direct outreach to the Latina mom community. Earlier this month the first lady was part of a live streamed chat sponsored by Mamiverse.com with Latina bloggers. Latinas were able to sit down and chat with the first lady about policy issues of concern to them, such as education and health.
While a number of policy issues were discussed in the chat session, the take home message from the first lady to Latinas was clear: “Re-elect President Obama!” This outreach is no small point given that Latinas, like other women, have outvoted their male counterparts since the 1980s. In the 2008 election Latinas outvoted Latino men by over 5 percent, and in the latest Latino Decisions’ poll Latinas support the President by 73 percent, compared to Latino men at 67 percent. Put differently, Latinas are a crucial base of support for the President and the first lady is proving to be a key part of Latina mobilization by connecting with them on a more personal level.
As with most things in life, a woman’s touch is priceless. The Obama campaign has realized as much, especially among the Latino electorate. The question is whether Mitt Romney will seek to mend his relationship with women, and especially Latinas, through a personalized outreach by the woman he hopes will be first lady come January 2013.
Dr. Victoria M. DeFrancesco Soto is an NBC Latino contributor, Senior Analyst for Latino Decisions and Fellow at the Center for Politics and Governance at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, at Austin.