Davis' campaign probably lacks the resources for a separate Spanish-language media campaign. (Ironically, one of his largest donors this year has been Spanish-language TV mogul A. Jerrold Perenchio.) Instead, it is leaning on the many Latino organizations and officials the lieutenant governor has worked with in his years in state government.
The California Democratic Party, for its part, is beginning to develop new ways to better target a diversified Latino electorate. "The days are gone when you can put a picture of Cesar Chavez and Bobby Kennedy on a mailer and send it out," says Democratic Party consultant Dario Frommer. "What we're realizing is that issues and messages that resonate with newly naturalized voters may not resonate with voters who have been here for generations."
While certain issues may resonate on a purely ethnic level, particularly those that make Latinos feel targeted as a group, many political consultants are discovering that the issues Latino voters care about are often determined by class or economic status rather than their ethnicity. A successful Latino campaign would then require ads to subtly balance class and even generational concerns while simultaneously appealing to ethnic affinity. Strategists are struggling now to identify which issues appeal to different segments of the Latino electorate.
Mike Madrid, new political director of the state Republican Party and a student of Latino voting patterns, isn't convinced that campaigns to target Latinos should be issues-based at all. "It's about messengers, not messages," he says. "All we know is that culture matters."
The next wave of political marketing directed at Latinos is likely to be more sophisticated. Veteran Democratic strategist Richie Ross predicts that, in the next electoral cycle, candidates will begin targeting Latinos in English-language media. This year's campaign against Proposition 226, the initiative to restrict union dues for political purposes, reportedly will use this strategy.
The challenge in such advertising is to appeal to a specific group without alienating the rest of the market. If, say, an ad features Latino characters that a Latino audience can identify with, their images must be drawn so that the general audience will see them as one of their own. While ethnic target marketing is increasingly common in product sales, political strategists have just discovered it.
Just as women voters respond to different messages than men, it makes sense that ethnically targeted political campaigning would work to curry favor among Latino Californians. Such advances in strategy were bound to happen as the Latino share of the California electorate continues to grow. The attention Latinos are receiving in this year's Democratic gubernatorial primary will only hasten the evolution.
Four years ago, Latinos were factored out of both major parties' political calculus. Perhaps four years from now, statewide candidates will go beyond the symbolic courtship of Latino voters and speak directly to their concerns and hopes in a way any California voter would expect.