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Latino voters in California still reluctant to embrace GOP candidates, poll shows

A new Times/USC survey shows Latinos backing Democrat Jerry Brown by 19 points over Republican Meg Whitman in the governor's race, and Barbara Boxer by 38 points over Carly Fiorina for the U.S. Senate.

September 27, 2010|By Cathleen Decker, Los Angeles Times

Latino voters, who have helped to propel California's leftward political swing over recent years, remain reluctant to embrace Republican candidates as the November general election nears, a new Los Angeles Times/USC poll shows.

Registered voters who identified themselves as Latino backed Democrat Jerry Brown by a 19-point margin over Republican Meg Whitman in the race for governor, despite Whitman's multiple appeals to Latino voters during the general election campaign. Registered voters who identified themselves as white gave Brown a slim 2-point margin.

In the race for U.S. Senate, incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer held a 38-point lead over Republican Carly Fiorina among registered Latino voters, five times the lead she held among white voters.

Latino views are keenly watched by political candidates and campaigns because of the state's demographic march. A 2009 study by the Field Poll found that white voters had declined from 83% to 65% of the electorate in the previous three decades. At the same time, the percentage of Latino voters had almost tripled, to 21%.

To allow a more precise look at this key voter group, the new poll, sponsored by The Times and the USC College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences, supplemented its sample of registered California voters by interviewing 400 Latino registered voters in either English or Spanish. To avoid changing the overall results, their numbers were adjusted in the poll to match expected voter turnout.??

In both the races for governor and for U.S. Senate, the candidate standings for Latino voters deemed likely to cast ballots in November were similar to those seen among all registered Latino voters, but the margin of error for likely voters was larger because of the smaller sample size.

Latinos were also propping up President Obama's standing in the state. Among white voters, 52% approved how Obama was handling his job; among Latino voters, 64% approved.

Not even the most optimistic Republican oddsmaker has presumed that the GOP candidates could win the Latino vote outright, but the party has long sought to at least boost its standing among Latinos enough to narrow the traditional Democratic edge among other groups, such as women and nonpartisan voters. This year, Whitman has fought Brown to a near-draw for much of the campaign, but that has been due to her gains among nonpartisan voters and women, not Latinos.

Whitman has reached for Latino support in myriad ways. She began airing ads on Spanish-language television stations after her June primary victory, highlighting her opposition to Arizona's new immigration law. She also noted her opposition to the particulars of the 1994 California measure, Proposition 187, which would have denied taxpayer-financed services to illegal immigrants. She erected billboards in Latino communities, opened a campaign office in East Los Angeles and spoke to Spanish-language media outlets.

But she remains the favorite of only one-third of registered Latino voters, the survey found.

Vinka Valdivia of Escondido, a Latina who is a registered nonpartisan voter, said she favored Brown because he knew the workings of government and would watch out "for the middle class."

"She is a corporate person who has run very big corporations, but she, for me, is not the right person to care about the middle class," Valdivia said.

The survey indicated that Republicans like Whitman and Fiorina have an opening to rally Latino voters because of the backgrounds they bring to their races — Whitman as the former head of EBay and Fiorina as the former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard.

When voters were asked whether they preferred a governor with experience in government or one who has "real-life experience in business," white voters sided narrowly with the government veteran. Latinos, however, gave a 12-point advantage to the business world outsider. When voters were asked whether they were more concerned that Whitman would side with big corporations or that Brown would bow to labor unions, white voters cited Whitman and corporations by 8 points. Latinos were less worried, expressing the same concern by a mere 3 points, and they were no more concerned than whites with the personal money Whitman has spent on her campaign.

"There are certainly factors that would have argued for Whitman to do well," said Manuel Pastor, a professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at USC.

Whitman herself has long hoped that her business background and the growing small-business pursuits of Latinos would provide some common ground. "Latinas are the fastest-growing segment of the market in starting new businesses," she told supporters at an Orange County event in May 2009, explaining why Latinos were a key component of her plan for victory.

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