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GOP Tries to Reach Spanish-Language Media

Schwarzenegger's camp says it is beginning a new push to get its message out. But some in the news business are skeptical.

September 13, 2003|Daniel Hernandez | Times Staff Writer

Arnold Schwarzenegger gave one of the longest TV interviews of his campaign last week, a 40-minute talk that covered everything from his bodybuilding past to his views on immigration.

The interviewer wasn't Barbara Walters or Katie Couric. It was Pablo Espinoza, a 34-year-old reporter for KUVS-TV in Sacramento, a Spanish-language television station.

Schwarzenegger's interview, his campaign aides say, is part of a new push in the Spanish-language media. It's an effort, however, that has met with some skepticism from journalists and media experts.

Many of the Spanish-language media in California are accustomed to covering Democratic candidates. The vast majority of Latino elected officials are Democrats, and prominent politicians like Los Angeles City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa and state Sen. Gil Cedillo are fixtures on some news shows.

Juan B. Botero, Schwarzenegger's Latino issues and Spanish-language spokesman, said the campaign hopes to change that, though he acknowledges a rocky start.

"I have four pages of news editors that I've called that have not returned my calls," said Botero, who declined to name the journalists. "I think a lot of the Latino press are squelching our message."

Journalists dispute this. Al Corral, news director of KVEA-TV Channel 52 in Los Angeles, said his station had made several requests for an interview with Schwarzenegger but had gotten no response.

"We're definitely reaching out. But for wherever reason, the Schwarzenegger campaign decided they didn't want to do an interview," said Corral, whose station is a Telemundo affiliate. "We'd be happy to have him."

Some Republicans have long complained that Spanish-language TV focuses on Democrats more than on their party. TV executives respond that they are simply trying to present news of interest to their viewers, who include many immigrants.

Indeed, the media widely covered Gov. Gray Davis' signing of a bill that gives an estimated 2 million illegal immigrants the ability to obtain driver's licenses. The stations have also focused on Schwarzenegger's campaign co-chairman, former Gov. Pete Wilson. Wilson was a leading supporter of Proposition 187, which aimed to deny public services to illegal immigrants. Experts say Democrats have traditionally been more skillful than Republicans in getting their message out.

"When Davis rolled out the driver's license bill, he had a special rollout just for the Spanish media. It was like two weeks before he signed the bill," said Antonio Gonzalez, president of the William C. Velasquez Institute, which does research on Latino public policy. "They work them, they're accessible."

Patrick Osio Jr., editor of news Web site, said the Democrats also hold an advantage because the media tend to turn to Latino elected officials, who are mostly Democrats, to discuss the issues of the day.

Democrats "recognize the importance of that type of outreach. The Latino elected officials by and large ... speak Spanish, so they're sought after by the Spanish-language stations," Osio said.

Osio said that only a handful of Latino elected officials on the Republican side "for whatever reasons, don't get invited or don't reach out. And immediately they're tied to Pete Wilson. It puts them too much on the defensive right off the bat."

Of the two leading Republicans in the recall race, Schwarzenegger has made the biggest effort to reach out to Latinos. Journalists interviewed this week said they were not aware of any interviews state Sen. Tom McClintock had given to Spanish-language television, and his campaign did not return calls seeking comment.

In his interview with the Sacramento station, Schwarzenegger stressed that, as it is for many viewers, America is his adopted home.

"I'm an immigrant here. I think all the people that come here, come here with the same dream. I think actually we're all one big family," he said. "You have to understand, I love Mexico. I've done four movies in Mexico.... After all this is over, I hope to do more movies there."

He also tried to distance himself from Wilson. "They say that Wilson is my mentor, and he's directing my campaign," he said, adding that those views are wrong. Wilson, Schwarzenegger said, has never given the candidate any advice "about immigration, anything like that. I only ask him about the economy. But I am not a puppet of him. I am my own man."

Espinoza, whose station is affiliated with Spanish-language media giant Univision said he got the interview because one of the candidate's top aides, Sean Walsh, had vouched for Espinoza's work.

The campaign on Friday also introduced an ad to run on Spanish-language radio stations that stressed the actor's immigrant roots.

Assemblyman Abel Maldonado (R-Santa Maria), an advisor to the Schwarzenegger campaign on Latino issues, said he was urging Schwarzenegger to appear on more Spanish-language television.

"I would like to see Arnold Schwarzenegger on Spanish TV more, absolutely," Maldonado said. "We've got to get that message out, because that's the Latino message," the American dream.

But Botero said he didn't expect any more one-on-one interviews with Spanish-language television, citing the candidate's busy campaign schedule.

"That was it," he said.

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