Friday, Oct. 8, 2010 | 1:50 a.m.
Nevada Democrats are accusing GOP Senate nominee Sharron Angle of fear-mongering over a new campaign ad that began airing this week, but minority advocates say it could increase voter turnout and help Harry Reid.
The Angle campaign began airing a 30-second commercial hitting Reid for offering public benefits for illegal immigrants through such bills as the DREAM Act. The ad shows stock photos of Latino youths with the words “illegal aliens” at the bottom of the screen, and asks the final question: “What does Harry Reid have against you?”
“It’s a naked appeal to white people that brown people are taking what’s yours,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, an organization that promotes a comprehensive immigration overhaul. “But I think this could turn out to be a real turning point in the campaign.”
Local advocates who have been doing voter registration drives in Latino communities in Las Vegas say they expect the commercial will make many Latino voters angry enough that they might vote for the opposition.
“This anti-immigrants sentiment does cause Latinos to turn out,” said Gus West, board chair and president of the Hispanic Institute, which has been coordinating voter registration and mobilization efforts in Nevada this election cycle. “She’s really energizing Hispanics with this, and for that…we’re grateful.”
In Nevada, Hispanics are a potentially large voting bloc, making up 26 percent of the state's population – though Hispanics made up only about 15 percent of the voters in the last election cycle, according to exit polls.
Nationally, expectations are that Hispanics won't turn out in as large a number to support Democratic candidates – or any candidates for that matter – as they have in previous elections because of frustrations that President Obama didn’t deliver on promises to address immigration reform.
A low turnout among Latino voters could hurt Reid, who needs the Democrats' base to overcome the tea party-backed Angle.
Those Hispanics who do turn out are expected to vote for Democrats over Republicans – a reason some strategists say the ad can’t hurt Angle.
“She’s already conceded the Hispanics to Harry Reid,” said Republican strategist Chuck Muth. “Maybe it’s over the top, maybe it’s not – they [Hispanics] would find something to complain about anyway.”
Among the complaints are accusations that the ad takes party politics back to an era many thought was long since past, such as in 1988, when then-GOP presidential candidate George Bush brought Democrat Michael Dukakis’s candidacy down with a racially charged ad about convicted felon Willie Horton, or when Jesse Helms of North Carolina ran ads in 1990 against his competitor – an African-American – that disparaged affirmative action.
Both candidates who aired the ads were successful.
But Latino advocates say they’re not worried that Angle might benefit similarly from using racially charged imagery – including one stock photo of Latino youths that, incidentally, had been used not long ago in an ad by Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana.
“I’m not going to say that these tactics haven’t worked in the past,” said Andres Ramirez, a senior vice president with the National Democratic Network based in North Las Vegas. “But I think they will galvanize and mobilize Hispanic voters to turn out in higher numbers – and send the message that scape-goating will not be taken lightly.”
There isn’t 100 percent accord in the Angle camp about the tactics. In a Spanish-language radio interview last week, Ellis Saldarriaga – who works as a spokeswoman for Angle but wasn’t speaking for the campaign during the interview – said she “condemned this type of propaganda” against Mexicans and immigrants, “no matter who is running them.”
But the final judgment about how the immigration issue plays in Nevada will be decided at the polls.
“Shame on Angle for running the ad. But if it works, shame on Nevada,” Sharry said. “Then, Nevada will be known as a place where naked racial appeals work.”