Sunday, June 15, 2008


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By Jonathan Allen

Barack Obama has a Latina problem in the House of Representatives, and it could be symptomatic of a larger obstacle to unifying his party.

Several Hispanic women who backed New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in the primaries are miffed at the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee’s failure so far to seektheir support, according to several sources familiar with their discontent.

“We were told that he was going to make some approach to us to join the fold,” said Rep. Grace F. Napolitano , D-Calif., a former chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. “I haven’t heard from Mr. Obama.”

It is not unusual for members of Congress to feel taken for granted by a president of their own party or a White House hopeful. But Obama has a tough task ahead in courting Clinton’s strongest constituencies, including Hispanics, women and working-class white voters.

In particular, the Illinois senator, who got swamped in most heavily Hispanic districts across the country, can ill afford to risk alienating potential surrogates in a community that has viewed him with skepticism.

Napolitano, who describes herself as a “dyed in the wool” Democrat, said she will vote for and support the Democratic nominee in the fall. But she has not seen the type of commitment to Latino issues from Obama that she says she saw in Clinton.

“Unless I see something inherently helpful to our community, I’m going to sit back and see what happens,” Napolitano said. Napolitano and some of her Hispanic colleagues are informally boycotting Obama campaign events aimed at reaching out to Clinton supporters because the candidate himself has not asked for their help.

Another lawmaker said anger over Obama’s inattentiveness extends to women who are not Hispanic and even to Obama backers in the CHC who feel that they have been ignored by the campaign.

“It’s about respect,” that House member said. “I don’t understand why third parties have to be intermediaries.”

Over the course of the campaign, many House Democrats have privately expressed frustration with what they describe as Obama’s neglect of elected officials.

The issue appears to be particularly acute among Hispanic women, who say the Democratic primaries were tinged with sexism and that Obama has shown little interest in issues of importance to Hispanic voters.

“They are pissed,” said a congressman who has observed the developing anger. “People have said to Obama ‘Call them.’”

With Clinton issuing a hardy endorsement of Obama last Saturday, backers of both campaigns say this is a critical period for Obama to reach out to Democrats who were loyal to Clinton.
House Latinas Irked by Obama’s Neglect

“The scab is still drying,” said one of the Hispanic women.

But the wound was exacerbated earlier this week when Rep. Xavier Becerra , one of Obama’s most prominent Hispanic supporters, told Politico that he advised the Obama campaign that he could wrap up Hispanic backing by saying “Just give him to me for a week, and I will deliver the Latino vote.”

Becerra’s comments left some Hispanic lawmakers feeling that their support was being taken for granted.

But on Thursday, Becerra sought to reassure them.

“It’s clear Sen. Obama will undertake energetic efforts to reach out to all of Sen. Clinton’s supporters in order to build his team and unite all of us behind him,” Becerra said. “His personal story, his message of hope and change and his tireless work to reach every corner of the country will no doubt resonate with all Americans, especially those in the Latino community.”

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