February 14, 2008 — Vol. 43, No. 27
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Latino vote key in Obama’s Hub win — and Mass. loss

Yawu Miller

Bucking the state’s political establishment, Boston voters chose Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton 52 percent to 44 percent in last week’s Democratic presidential primary.

The Illinois senator’s win in Boston came in spite of Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s pledge to commit 800 campaign workers — including 80 drivers who would transport voters to the polls — to Clinton’s campaign, and support from House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi, Senate President Therese Murray and more than a dozen prominent House members.

Mirroring a national trend, voters in the city’s primarily African American precincts propelled Obama’s lead over Clinton, with 82 percent of Roxbury’s Ward 12 voting for Obama.

Clinton won in the traditionally conservative Irish and Italian strongholds of South Boston, West Roxbury and East Boston. But Obama picked up support in wealthier enclaves like the Back Bay and Beacon Hill.

Obama’s win in Boston speaks to his popularity among white progressives and African Americans more than the strength of his Massachusetts organization, which observers say was under-resourced.

Volunteer campaign workers opened an office on Washington Street in Dudley square the Saturday before the election, mustering only 40 poll workers to cover the city’s African American wards.

But in a contest that has evolved into a state-by-state battle for delegates, Massachusetts may not have figured prominently in the Obama campaign’s strategy.

As it turned out in Boston, that didn’t matter so much.

In Roxbury, Chuck Turner’s district office worked weeks before the campaign to encourage higher turnout. Volunteers in the Roxbury office sent absentee ballots to senior citizens three weeks prior to the election.

Turner, a Green Party member who voted for former Democrat U.S. Rep.-turned-Green presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney in this year’s primary, said that in light of low voter totals in last November’s elections, his main concern was getting people in his district to come out to the polls.

“We were disappointed with the turnout in November,” he said. “We thought it was important that calls be made this time.”

Volunteers in Turner’s office called active voters and offered rides to the polls. Ward 12, which makes up the bulk of Turner’s City Council District 7, saw turnout of 42 percent, nine percentage points higher than the citywide average of 33 percent.

In Jamaica Plain, veteran political activists Jaime Rodriguez and Giovanna Negretti worked to encourage turnout in the more heavily Latino precincts, where Obama got 60 percent of the vote.

The success they achieved in Jamaica Plain, however, was dwarfed by Obama’s failure to capture the Latino vote in Massachusetts as well as across the nation.

“I don’t believe the Obama campaign has invested a lot in the Spanish-speaking community,” Rodriguez said. “That’s one of the reasons Latinos are not voting for him.”

That may well have been the case in Lawrence, where the majority of the more than 10,000 voters who turned out last Tuesday were Latino. There, Clinton received 73 percent of the vote, while Obama garnered just 24 percent.

While Obama garnered endorsements from Gov. Deval Patrick and U.S. Sens. Edward M. Kennedy and John F. Kerry, DiMasi and other state representatives — including Lawrence’s Willy Lantigua — went to work for Clinton.

Alberto Suris, who publishes Rumbo, a Lawrence newspaper published in Spanish and English, noted that Obama’s campaign did not have a presence in the city.

“DiMasi stopped in Lawrence with a group of people with signs,” he said. “He joined Lantigua in a standout on Broadway. There were more than 100 people there.”

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