On the heels of a poll that showed Republican gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman improving her standing among Latinos, Democratic rival Jerry Brown on Thursday launched an appeal to this vital bloc of voters, who are crucial to his election but have yet to show strong allegiance to him.
Brown, flanked by more than a dozen Latino leaders at Cal State L.A., said Latinos would not be duped by Whitman's recent overtures and would remember the Republican's harsh words about illegal immigration during the GOP primary.
"Listen, you can put up your billboards in Spanish and you can buy stuff on Spanish television, but the people aren't fooled. The people know the truth," he said. "Between now and November, we're going to deliver that message up and down the state."
Brown has come under withering criticism by fellow Democrats for his campaign's lack of visible energy and lack of outreach to Latinos. This week, the campaign hired its first fluent Spanish speaker, and a spokesman said its website would be translated into Spanish soon.
Whitman has already hired a Spanish-language speaker to work with Spanish-language media and had her website translated months ago. But she has faced challenges with Latinos because of the GOP primary's focus on illegal immigration and because her campaign chairman, former Gov. Pete Wilson, is viewed as a pariah by many Latinos.
Since the June 8 primary, Whitman has aired ads on Spanish-language television during the World Cup and on radio. Her campaign has erected billboards in Latino communities and spoken on Spanish-language media outlets. Her efforts appear to be paying off.
Though Brown held an 11-point lead among Latino voters in a Field Poll released earlier this week, Whitman had the support of 39%, a 14-point gain since March and at the level that strategists say she needs to be to win in November.
"Any Republican running statewide has to get at least one-third of the Latino vote," said Allan Hoffenblum, a former Republican consultant and publisher of the nonpartisan California Target Book. "Jerry Brown very, very badly needs to aggressively go after that Latino vote."
Democrats unveiled their strategy Thursday, recounting both Brown's history in pushing measures beneficial to Latinos and Whitman's own words during the primary.
Pressured by primary opponent Steve Poizner, Whitman spoke out aggressively against illegal immigration. However, she also took some heat for saying she opposed Proposition 187, the 1994 ballot measure that would have denied taxpayer-funded benefits for illegal immigrants, and the new Arizona law that compels police, when stopping someone on a suspected violation, to determine the immigration status of those they think are in the country illegally.
During the primary, Whitman acknowledged the more moderate positions in response to questions, but did not include them in her campaign ads. Now, however, she is touting her opposition to both the measures in ads and billboards.
Democrats argue that Whitman's positions are contradictory. In her Republican primary radio ad called "Tough as Nails", she said that "Illegal immigrants should not expect benefits from the state of California." That, they note, was the point of Proposition 187, the measure she said she opposed.
"While our community is bilingual, we're not naïve," state Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) said at the Cal State L.A. event. "Put on any billboards whatever you want, we know what you have said."
Brown noted that Whitman has said that students who are illegal immigrants should not be allowed to attend public universities.
"That's cruel," he said. "There's something really not very human about that."
The Democrats also zeroed in on Wilson, who was the most visible supporter of Proposition 187.
"Jerry Brown broke bread with Cesar Chavez," said U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra (D- Los Angeles). "His opponent breaks bread with Pete Wilson."
A spokesman for the Whitman campaign noted that Whitman and Brown share some of the same views on immigration, such as ending sanctuary cities and opposing the Arizona law, and mocked his decision to appear with lawmakers at a time when the Legislature can't close a massive budget gap or draft a budget.
"After 40 years in politics, it's fitting that Gov. Brown's Latino outreach includes a lot of Sacramento politicians, but excludes any specific plans for creating jobs or fixing our public schools," said spokesman Hector Barajas. "Rather than solve the state's $19-billion deficit, which is costing Californians $52.3 million a day, it's clear these politicians would rather shirk responsibility and fight for their status-quo candidate."