Spanish-Language Campaign Outreach Falls Short Of Previous Years

Oct 29, 2016
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It's no secret that this country's Latino population is growing. To appeal to those voters more comfortable using Spanish, for years, presidential candidates have been spending more and more money on Spanish-language advertising - but not this year. Adrian Florido of NPR's Code Switch team went to the battleground state of Florida to find out why.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: I spent a week in Orlando and Miami tuned into Spanish-language radio and TV, and I heard a few presidential campaigns ads. This one is playing on the radio in Orlando.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

TIM KAINE: (Speaking in Spanish).

FLORIDO: That's Tim Kaine, a Spanish-speaker. But during my full week in Florida, I heard that ad only once. I saw one Clinton ad on Spanish TV and didn't see a single Spanish ad from the Trump campaign - this in one of the country's crucial battleground states. Maybe I just wasn't listening at the right time. Freddy Balsera says that's not it.

FREDDY BALSERA: On the advertising side, it hasn't been the same level of investment that we were accustomed to under the last two elections.

FLORIDO: Balsera is the guy who developed President Obama's Spanish ads in 2008. And he tells me in that campaign, Obama spent roughly $20 million on Spanish-language radio and TV ads.

BALSERA: It looks like, this year, it's 2 or $3 million.

FLORIDO: There are a few dynamics at play here. One is that a lot of political advertising is moving online. Another is that the Trump campaign doesn't appear to have produced a single Spanish ad, though last week a pro-Trump super PAC did start airing one in Nevada. But Anthony Williams, who helped develop Spanish ads for Obama's re-election campaign, says the main reason is Donald Trump's record-low support among Latinos.

ANTHONY WILLIAMS: He's already been on TV for, you know, 50, 100, $200 million worth of airtime saying horrible things about Hispanics. What could you add to that? So in a way, Trump is running the Hispanic campaign for the Clinton campaign.

FLORIDO: Williams says that if Clinton was running against someone like Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who is Cuban-American, or Jeb Bush, who speaks Spanish and has a Mexican wife, Spanish ad buys would be at record highs because Spanish-speaking voters would actually be in play. Consider this - in 2012, the Republicans did make a play for Spanish voters. Mitt Romney's son Craig introduced their big family in this ad.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

CRAIG ROMNEY: Hola, soy Craig Romney. (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: And the Obama campaign flooded the air with ads that weren't just in Spanish but tailored to specific Latino identities. This one aired in Orlando, home to many Puerto Ricans, and attacked Mitt Romney for not supporting Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: Like Sotomayor, the narrator in that ad is a Puerto Rican woman. This ad aired in the Cuban stronghold of Miami, featuring the city's former mayor Manny Diaz, a Cuban-American.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

MANNY DIAZ: (Speaking Spanish).

BARACK OBAMA: ...Will continue to seek ways to increase the independence of the Cuban people.

FLORIDO: Political strategist Fernand Amandi, whose firm developed these ads for Obama, tells me at that time, he assumed this issue-oriented microtargeting would be the new standard for reaching Latino voters on radio and TV.

FERNAND AMANDI: I think for some folks it's disappointing that that precedent that seemed to have been set by Obama in 2012 has changed again.

FLORIDO: But this election is different. Polls show that Spanish-speaking voters overwhelmingly support Hillary Clinton, so nuance and big TV and radio buys may be unnecessary. Amandi acknowledges that simply encouraging Latinos to turn out may be enough. In fact, the Clinton campaign has announced a new ad for the last days of the campaign with essentially this message - Latino votes matter. Adrian Florido, NPR News, Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.