Damage Control: Meg Whitman and the Latino Vote

California governor candidate defends handling of illegal immigrant maid.

ByABC News
October 2, 2010, 10:43 PM

Oct. 3, 2010— -- Republican candidate Meg Whitman and her Democratic opponent Jerry Brown made two things Saturday in the first ever Spanish-language debate in the race for governor of California: history and good television.

History was made because the 60-minute event -- held midday on the campus of Cal State Fresno and translated accordingly for both the audience and the candidates -- marked a political acknowledgment of the increasingly important Latino vote in the Golden State.

A political acknowledgment, which experts believe, is both astute and no longer really an option for political hopefuls in this country.

"The demographics are very clear," says Shira Toeplitz, National Political Reporter for Politico. "Hispanic voters are a growing block of voters and politicians are going to have to look at that when they want to run for re-election, this year or two years from now or two years from that."

It is largely undisputed in the political world that the Latino vote is an essential one. Latinos compose approximately 21 percent of the electorate and roughly a third of California's population as a whole.

In fact, Whitman herself even admitted at the start of the debate, "I cannot win the governor's race without the Latino vote."

And that's exactly why her campaign has so aggressively targeted California's Latino community; opening neighborhood offices in the state's Latino hubs and creating numerous ads for Spanish-language radio and television stations that communicate her ideas on jobs and the K-12 education system.

And, up until this week, these focused campaign efforts had been working. Whitman had garnered approximately 26 percent of the California Latino vote.

"$120 million of her own money later, she was leading in the polls," says Toeplitz. "Traditionally Democrats have a hold on Latino voters in most areas of the country, including California; but Meg Whitman really made a play for that section of California and that voting block. And she was doing pretty well, relative to other Republicans."