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Hillary makes early, aggressive play for blacks and Hispanics

By Mike Lillis

Hillary Clinton is taking early and aggressive steps to assemble the coalition of voters that propelled President Obama to victory in 2008 and 2012.

The former secretary of State is reaching out to blacks, Hispanics, women, gays and millennials in an effort to build the support that proved critical for Obama. It’s a prescription that, if successful, would make it exceedingly difficult for a Republican opponent to defeat her, according to political experts.

Last week, Clinton highlighted the nation’s entrenched racial disparities and called for an end to mass incarcerations — a message that resonates with black voters, who overwhelmingly backed Obama. And on Tuesday, she was in Nevada marking Cinco de Mayo with calls for a pathway to citizenship for immigrants living in the U.S. illegally  — a message targeting Hispanic voters, who also supported Obama in high numbers.“If we claim that we are for families, we have to pull together and solve the outstanding issues around our broken immigration system,” she said Tuesday during her remarks.

“We can’t wait any longer for a path to full and equal citizenship.”

A Republican presidential nominee hasn’t won more than 286 electoral votes since 1988. Democratic nominees, meanwhile, have attracted at least 332 electoral votes four times since then.

Republicans privately acknowledge the Electoral College and the nation’s changing demographics favor Democrats in 2016. But they maintain swing voters don’t like Clinton and don’t trust her.

The reasons for Clinton’s outreach are clear enough: Of the handful of battleground states where candidates will focus and the race will likely be decided, most have a significant minority population — particularly Hispanic. States including Florida, Colorado, Nevada, Virginia and North Carolina could tip the outcome.

“The key for her in those states is to assemble that minority coalition,” Michael Mezey, political scientist and professor emeritus at DePaul University, said Tuesday. “I think it’s crucial.”

Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, echoed that message, predicting that any candidate able to rally the “eclectic” support Obama did is a shoo-in for the White House.

“Nobody wins the presidency in this country any more by just getting one set of folks,” Cárdenas, who has not endorsed a presidential contender, said Tuesday by phone. “If she reproduces those numbers, I don’t think she’s beatable. And you can take her name out of there and put any candidate in her place. … If anybody can figure out how to get that panoply of voters out for them, they’re going to win.”

The Clinton coalition will not be identical to Obama’s. For example, it’s unlikely that Clinton can match Obama’s African-American turnout figures, but she could beat the president’s numbers among rural and blue-collar voters.

Helping to guide Clinton’s effort is Jim Messina, who managed Obama’s 2012 campaign. He joined Clinton’s camp in January as co-chairman of Priorities USA Action, a Democratic super-PAC that’s backing her. Announcing his move, Messina said the group was “critical” in getting out voters in 2012 and hopes to “replicate that role” in 2016.

A crucial component of Obama’s 2012 strategy was his move, just months before the election, to establish a program halting deportations and providing work permits for illegal immigrants brought to the country as children. To that point, many Hispanics had soured on Obama, accusing him of not keeping campaign promises to prioritize immigration reforms that included legalization and citizenship benefits.

His deferred deportation program seemed to pay dividends at the polls, where 71 percent of Hispanic voters backed the president — up from the already formidable 67 percent he won four years earlier — and helped secure states such as Colorado, Florida and Nevada.

Alfonso Aguilar, a Republican who headed the Office of Citizenship under President George W. Bush, said the Hispanic vote will be “decisive” in 2016, based on the demographics of those same swing states.

But he also argued that Clinton is in no way guaranteed the Hispanic vote. Aguilar said her record on immigration in the Senate, where she voted for comprehensive reforms backed by advocates but also supported a border-fence bill they opposed, creates “a huge problem” that undermines her credibility on the issue.

“For her now to grandstand and say, ‘I’m for a path to citizenship,’ that’s a bit ridiculous. She was silent when she was in the Senate,” said Aguilar, who now leads the Latino Partnership at American Principles in Action. “I don’t think [Hispanic voters] will believe her.”

He noted that GOP hopefuls like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) have pushed more lenient reforms that would attract Hispanic voters.

“If they end up supporting her, it’s by default. But it’s up to the Republicans. … They have to move away from the narrative that they just want to secure the border,” Aguilar said. “The only way she can get to those levels of support that Obama had is if the Republicans screw up.”

America’s Voice, a liberal group advocating for comprehensive immigration reform, gives Clinton a mixed record. The group praised her recent positions but denounced her support for the border fence and her reluctance to back a 2008 New York proposal granting driver’s licenses for immigrants in the country illegally. The quickly evolving debate “has left [Clinton] rusty on the issue,” the group says.

Republicans are pouncing on her immigration record, saying she’s flip-flopped in ways that undermine her credibility. The Republican National Committee (RNC) says it has had operatives on the ground in Hispanic and other minority communities for years, suggesting Clinton is now struggling to catch up.

“We believe it’s important to earn voters’ trust and respect — the other party’s de facto nominee doesn’t seem to understand that, which is why the majority of Americans view her as dishonest and untrustworthy,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said Tuesday in an email.

Pablo Manriquez, who leads outreach to Hispanic media for the Democratic National Committee, said Republicans have their own credibility problems when it comes to attracting Hispanic voters. He pointed out that the GOP opposes comprehensive immigration reform, ObamaCare, a minimum wage hike and a host of other economic proposals pushed by Democrats.

“While both parties want to speak to Latino voters during this election cycle, only the Democratic Party embraces policies that improve the economic prospects for the Latino community,” Manriquez said Tuesday in an email.

Clinton’s outreach strategy has hardly been limited to Hispanic and black voters. At a Women of the World summit last month, she pushed for automatic paid leave for working mothers and denounced conservative attacks on reproductive health.

And last week, as the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case weighing gay marriage rights, she was quick to enter the fray.

“Every loving couple & family deserves to be recognized & treated equally under the law across our nation,” she tweeted.

Obama found great success attracting the same voters Clinton is now trying to captivate. Aside from the overwhelming support from Hispanics, Obama also won 55 percent of women, 60 percent of millennials and 93 percent of blacks in 2012.

Mezey, of DePaul University, said a major challenge for Clinton is not just winning sentiments but exciting voters enough that they actually go to the polls. Inspiring voter turnout was “a part of the Obama phenomenon,” he said, a dynamic that will be extremely tough to replicate.

“I’m fairly comfortable that she can reproduce the percentages,” Mezey said. “It’s the turnout you’ve got to be concerned about.”

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