Volunteer Evangeline Martinez-Donkersley, right, calls potential supporters of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton from a phone bank in Albuquerque. One observer says that the Democrats' fight for the Hispanic vote is historic.
Volunteer Evangeline Martinez-Donkersley, right, calls potential supporters of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton from a phone bank in Albuquerque. One observer says that the Democrats' fight for the Hispanic vote is historic. (By Lauren Clifton For The Washington Post)
By Jose Antonio Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 3, 2008

ALBUQUERQUE -- Inside an accounting office-turned-volunteer hub in the southwestern part of this city, Evangeline Martinez-Donkersley made nearly 85 calls on behalf of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Sometimes in English, often in Spanish, the 70-year-old said, "Necesitamos su voto para Hillary Clinton" -- "We need your vote for Hillary Clinton."

About five miles away, amid adobe houses and cottonwood trees in the North Valley neighborhood, Juanita Alonzo, 20, worked the streets for Sen. Barack Obama. Clipboard in hand, Alonzo knocked on door after door. Three hours and more than 50 doors later, the sophomore at Central New Mexico Community College sighed. "It doesn't look too good. More than half say they're voting for Clinton."

That wouldn't be surprising, given the results in Nevada and Florida, where Hispanics backed Clinton by about 2 to 1. Maintaining that edge would give her an enormous advantage in several Super Tuesday states that have large numbers of Hispanics, including California, Arizona and New York.

Here in New Mexico, home to natives who trace their history to Spanish colonists and immigrants from Mexico and other parts of Central America, nearly 40 percent of eligible voters are Hispanic.

"Hillary's got the advantage over Obama, especially since she'll probably get a good chunk of the Hispanic vote," said New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who last month gave up his bid to become the first Hispanic to win the White House. Richardson, who was a Cabinet member for President Bill Clinton, has yet to endorse either candidate. "The Clintons are known here. To many Hispanics, Obama is a new face. That's attractive to many people and risky to many others."

The Hispanic vote, here and elsewhere, is not monolithic. Puerto Ricans in New York, for example, are viewed as more liberal and antiwar than Mexicans in California, said Roberto Suro, former director of the Pew Hispanic Center, who teaches at the University of Southern California.

There is also an emerging generation gap in the Hispanic community, one embodied in many households in Albuquerque, New Mexico's largest city. Christopher Sanchez, 22, a senior at the University of New Mexico, plans to vote for Obama. But his mother, Julie, 50, a cashier at Wal-Mart, supports Clinton.

"What we're seeing here is the maturation of the Hispanic vote. You have Hispanic parents -- many of them immigrants, many not -- who have lived through the Clinton years, which are synonymous with economic prosperity and stability. Hispanic culture is matriarchal, and the idea of a woman president is very appealing. Then you have their kids, who identify with Obama and see him as a minority who came from nothing, whose African father was an immigrant," said Maria Teresa Petersen, director of the nonpartisan Voto Latino, which launched an ad campaign last week aimed at mobilizing young voters.

Added Simon Rosenberg, founder of the New Democrat Network, which has published numerous reports on Hispanic voting trends: "There's an actual fight for the Hispanic vote. A historical line has been crossed. In the past, the Hispanic vote has never been a priority for the Democratic Party. But Clinton has long made it one of her priorities. And now you have Obama gaining ground."

The moment Richardson dropped out of the primary race, aides to Clinton and Obama headed to New Mexico. Obama's team got here first, opening three offices across the state and airing a television ad. Clinton's campaign flooded the state soon thereafter, organizing supporters and working with longtime Democratic activists. She aired her own ad, too.

Each has rolled out a list of endorsements from Hispanic state officials, though Clinton is perceived to be surrounded by higher-profile figures, such as Dolores Huerta, a native New Mexican and co-founder of the United Farm Workers of America. It's also not lost on Hispanics, even those who support Obama, that Clinton's campaign manager, Patti Solis Doyle, is Mexican American. Obama counts Federico Pe¿a, who served as energy secretary under Bill Clinton, in his inner circle.

Two rallies Thursday illuminated the endorsement and enthusiasm gap between the candidates.

Earlier in the day, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who has endorsed Obama, stopped at Albuquerque's National Hispanic Cultural Center. Kennedy is a beloved figure here, his family's relationship with Hispanics dating to the 1960s. About 250 people packed the room.

Later in the afternoon, Bill Clinton was greeted by about 3,000 people at the University of New Mexico. He was introduced by Huerta and Martin Ch¿vez, Albuquerque's mayor.

Still, both Clinton and Obama consider the state competitive. Obama stopped by Albuquerque and Santa Fe on Friday. On Saturday night, Hillary Clinton held a rally in Albuquerque.

"Yes, Obama may be attracting a lot of young voters, but we older voters have been more reliable than them," said Martinez-Donkersley, a party activist for 38 years and a member of the Democratic Women of Bernalillo County and Las Amigas de Nuevo Mexico. Many Hispanics, especially older ones, vote as a unit, she continued, noting that her husband, Ray, 80, her sons Keith, 44, and James, 42, and her sisters Ramona, 72, and Connie, 69, are voting for Clinton.

Then, at the accounting office-turned-volunteer hub, she picked up the phone and dialed another number. "Estoy telefoniando por la candidata Hillary Clinton," she said.

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