New America Media staff reports
Not long before, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom was visiting the Korean-language dailyKorea Times in Los Angeles, hoping to make inroads with its readers in his bid to unseat the Latino Republican incumbent for lieutenant governor, Abel Maldonado.
Meanwhile, Whitman’s opponent, Jerry Brown, recently held a community event with Filipino-American leaders and news media. “We very much appreciate this access,” said Margartia Argente, advertising manager for Burlingame-based Philippines News, which has also run Democratic Party ads.
With ethnic voters expected to play a decisive role in a number of high-stakes elections on November 2, the media that many of them depend to deliver their news and help shape their views are being courted by statewide and local candidates as never before—with visits to newsrooms, purchases of advertising, and appearances in debates and other forums that spotlight minority concerns.
In the case of Whitman, who has spent more than $162 million to defeat Brown, including tens of millions of dollars on Spanish-language commercials and outreach, the focus on ethnic media has been unprecedented—and ethnic media has played a key role in driving the narrative of her struggling campaign. Candidates for Senate and lieutenant governor have also heavily targeted Latino media and voters.
Latinos make up a third of the state’s residents and one-fifth of its likely voters but have leaned heavily Democratic since the 1990s. Whitman began spending big on Spanish-language radio and TV ads more than a year ago, as she geared up for a tough GOP primary, and by this summer, she seemed to be making inroads with Latino voters against Brown.
When her campaign ran into trouble in September over news that she employed, then fired, an illegal immigrant housekeeper, Whitman immediately responded by doubling her advertising on Spanish-language radio, increasing Latino television spots by roughly 50 percent, and granting interviews to Univision and Telemundo, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Yet even the timing of the housekeeper bombshell—days before the state’s first-ever Spanish-language gubernatorial debate, sponsored by Univision—highlighted the importance of Latino media in the campaign and seemed calculated with Latino media in mind.
Whitman also has reached out to other ethnic communities, with multilingual phone banks targeting Russian, Farsi and Korean speakers and TV spots in Mandarin and Cantonese. (Not to Filipinos, however: “We continue to be bewildered why [she] and the Republican Party do not reach out to our community, when we see ads by them in [other] media,” said Philippines News’s Argente.
By comparison, the media outreach efforts of the non-billionaire Brown have been more under the radar. In the Latino community, unions have taken on much of the work of targeting voters, with a $5 million advertising campaign.
(There have also been efforts to discourage Latinos from voting, with an ad that ran once on Univision in Nevada and was slated to run in California before it was pulled amid controversy earlier this month. The ad, sponsored by a GOP operative, said, “This November, we need to send a message to all politicians. If they can't keep their promise on immigration reform, then they can't count on our vote. Democratic leaders must pay for their broken promises and betrayals. Don't vote this November. This is the only way to send them a clear message. You can no longer take us for granted. Don't vote.")
The big Latino media in California has been at the center of other headline-grabbing issues, such as the recent comments by U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Santa Ana) during a Sunday morning interview with Univision talk show host Jorge Ramos.
Sanchez told viewers her Republican opponent Van Tran, who fled Vietnam as a child, was anti-immigrant and anti-Hispanic. “Suddenly that became the focus of all sorts of media outlets,” said Vu Hao Nhien, editor of Nguoi Viet newspaper—and GOP money began pouring into the race.
Less attention for smaller outlets
Yet for all the money and access being enjoyed by big ethnic media outlets in this election, smaller ones say they haven't seen much of a trickle-down effect. Despite Whitman's huge outreach to the Latino voters, “We haven’t been getting much attention at all,” said Eva Martinez, managing editor at El Tecolote, a bilingual weekly focused on San Francisco. “If anything, it’s been from friends [ofEl Tecolote] who have been forwarding [information] to us. I think they [candidates] tend to overlook us, actually.”
“I definitely think it’s regrettable, because you can reach out to the large media and probably reach a larger group, but we’re here on the ground, and in terms of looking at our newspaper, the people trust us,” Martinez said. “ We’ve been here for 40 years and the people we do reach, we can have more of an impact on.”
Despite the growing ranks of Indian-American candidates nationally, Richard Springer, a reporter for India West, a national weekly published in San Leandro, Calif., says his paper also has not seen an increase in access or in political ads, either.
The paper does benefit from announcements for fundraisers by Indian Americans for mainstream candidates, Springer said. “The major candidates usually rely on the hosts of these fundraisers to ask for coverage of their events,” he said. “Meg Whitman's supporters asked us to cover one event, as did Barbara Boxer's Indian American group.” But he added that this year, there has been a dip in fundraising activity among Indian Americans and thus a smaller ad revenue stream.
Bassam Mahawi, editor of the Watan newspaper based in Anaheim, Calif., told a similar story. On a statewide level, “No one has really contacted or connected with us,” he said. “There are a few Arab Americans, local candidates, running for city council, and they reached out to us. One placed an advertisement.”
Fatima Atieh, publisher of Al Enteshar Al Arabi in Los Angeles, said her newspaper also has heard only from Arab Americans running for local seats. “[We] reach all of California, so if candidates want to reach Arab Americans, they should be contacting us,” she said. “It is their responsibility to find us. I believe that if they are not contacting us, it is a mismanagement of their campaign.”
Black press feels especially ignored
Perhaps more surprising is the complaint voiced by representatives of African-American publications. Willie Ratcliff, publisher of the San Francisco Bay View, says the Democratic Party has all but ignored the black press this year.
“We haven’t been getting any advertising,” he said. “They’ve taken the black vote for granted, and we have no where to go. Some black papers are supporting Republicans.” Ratcliff said while African Americans and black media have tended to support Democratic candidates, the L.A. Sentinel, the largest black paper in Los Angeles, endorsed Maldonado rather than Newsom, who has alienated many ethnic voters with his support for gay marriage.
Ratcliff says black voters aren’t especially enthusiastic about Brown, either. “But they feel they can’t let [Whitman] in there,” he said. Instead, he said black voters will turn out big for local races, such as the competitive race for the Board of Supervisors seat for San Francisco’s District 10, a seat now held by an African African but with a strong Asian-American candidate.
Amelia Ashley Ward, publisher of another black newspaper, the San Francisco Sun Reporter, said a number of candidates have sought the paper’s endorsement, including Newsom, attorney general candidate Kamala Harris and Senate incumbent Barbara Boxer. Despite the interest, the paper has received about half the number of political ads it normally gets during a general election, she says.
“The Democratic candidates run ads, but Republicans—who have money—tend not to reach out because they feel we are not going to vote for them anyway,” she said.