Election throwback: Corridos, madrinas and how to woo the Latino vote

A day away from the presidential election, early voting returns show an increase in Latino voter turnout in key states across the country, including Texas.

In Texas alone, Latino turnout in 20 of the state’s largest counties had already exceeded Latino early voting turnout in 2012 by 26 percent, and voters with Spanish surnames made up 18.8 percent of the 3.8 million ballots cast through Wednesday in those 20 counties – a 20.1-percent increase over their share of the electorate in 2012.

Latino turnout is also poised to make a significant impact in key states like ArizonaFlorida and Nevada, where the early voting period was extended until 10 p.m. Friday at a grocery store in a heavily Latino area of Las Vegas to allow all people in line to cast their vote.

And although the scope and impact of the increase in Latino turnout for this presidential election will not be fully known until after Tuesday, the noted rise cannot be denied.

“We’re seeing more Hispanics register to vote and, like the numbers say, we’re seeing more Hispanics show up,” Derek Ryan, a political consultant and former research director of the Republican Party of Texas, told the American-Statesman last week.

This presidential election, perhaps because of Donald Trump’s statements about Mexican immigrants and building a border wall, has seen an increase in outreach to Latino voters. Notably, the history of Latino voter outreach in national elections goes as far back as 1960 with the campaign of John F. Kennedy airing Spanish language ads featuring Jackie Kennedy urging Latinos to vote for her husband.

Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, also benefited from Latino support. Historical photos often show voters at campaign stops with “Viva Johnson” posters.

But as the recent PBS documentary “Willie Velasquez: Your Vote is Your Voice” shows, it was a Republican, John Tower, who first used the power of the mass media to woo Latino voters on a large scale during his 1978 re-election bid for the U.S. Senate.

With the help of advertising executive Lionel Sosa (a longtime Republican, who has said he will vote for Hillary Clinton this year), Tower put together a media campaign based around “El Corrido de John Tower,” a song written as a traditional Mexican ballad that espoused Tower’s record of helping the Latino community. Notably, the song only notes one Latino issue, bilingual education, that Tower had worked on.

That did not matter. Tower won 32 percent of the Latino vote, a traditionally Democratic stronghold, which helped him edge out Democrat Bob Krueger by less than a percentage point.

In another show that Republicans can turn out Latino voters, George W. Bush won 40 percent and 44 percent of the Latino vote nationally in his respective presidential races in 2000 and 2004.

More recently, Gov. Greg Abbott aired a television ad during his 2014 election campaign that featured his mother-in-law, who is Latina, espousing his Catholic faith and values. In the ad, she says she is not only Abbott’s mother-in-law but also his madrina, a Spanish word that means godmother but is also loaded with affectionate connotation for Latinos.

During this presidential elections, both campaigns had pretty dismal attempts at wooing Latinos.

Trump, who started his campaign by calling Mexican immigrants criminals and rapists, further alienated himself through botched attempts to reach out to Latinos. On Cinco de Mayo, (which, for the record, is not Mexican Independence Day) Trump posted a picture on Twitter of himself eating a Taco Bowl at Trump Tower with a message that read “I love Hispanics” and later pivoted to a “What Have You Got to Lose?” appeal to Latinos and other voters of color.

For her part, Hillary Clinton, was criticized when her campaign posted an article titled “7 things Hillary Clinton has in common with your abuela” that was seen as a failed effort to connect with Latinos that perpetuated stereotypes. The article listed similarities such as “she cares about children” and unnecessarily interspersed Spanish words into its text, in what was largely criticized as a move to “Hispander,” or pander, to Hispanics. She was also criticized for her campaign’s attempt to brand her as “La Hillary.”

Those criticisms may not be enough to affect her popularity with Latino voters, who have traditionally viewed Clinton and her husband, Bill, favorably.

On Tuesday, we’ll have a clear answer to who wooed the Latino vote better. But we can always be proud that the first politician to really channel his efforts into a concerted Latino outreach campaign was a Texan.