Record Spending Likely as Obama, Romney Ramp Up Courtship of Latinos

Florida, Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico Have Already Seen an Ad Blitz

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Mitt Romney has turned to son Craig, who's fluent in Spanish.
Mitt Romney has turned to son Craig, who's fluent in Spanish.

Latino voters are becoming more desirable with each election as their ranks swell, and the presidential candidates are hitting them early and often this campaign season and will likely break spending records. The Obama campaign and allied advertisers are already spending heavily to woo them. And while observers say Mitt Romney is unlikely to win the Hispanic vote, the campaign can better its chances of overall victory simply by cutting into President Barack Obama's vote count within the population.

Mr. Obama won 67% of the Latino vote nationally in 2008, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, and he'll need high margins to prevail again in swing states he captured last time, such as Nevada and New Mexico (where he won 76% and 69% of the Latino vote respectively). According to a person close to the Obama campaign, nearly $3 million has been spent to date on TV and radio ads to reach Latino voters.

Meanwhile, the labor union SEIU teamed up with Priorities USA Action (a Super PAC backing the president) in June to initiate a $4 million TV and radio campaign in Florida, Nevada and Colorado that will run throughout the summer and records Latinos' wounded reactions to controversial statements by Mitt Romney like "I'm not concerned about the very poor." The third round of them debut this week.

The amounts being spent are unprecedented in light of the fact that just $5.7 million total was put down on Hispanic media in the 2008 general election, according to Kantar Media. Recent spots have broadcast the star power of high-profile Obama backers like Marc Anthony and former Univision talk-show queenCristina Saralegui, who touts Obamacare.

"Democrats' Spanish-language push in 2012 is more concerted and more proportionate to their overall effort than in 2008," said Elizabeth Wilner, VP at Kantar Media's Campaign Media Analysis Group. "Although they haven't rolled out as many creative [executions] in Spanish as in English, they've rolled them out at a consistent pace since the general-election race began."

Meanwhile, the Romney camp has spent a fraction of the total Obama sum for Spanish-language TV to date -- or roughly $200,000, according to a source who tracks media buys -- but nothing in Florida since the GOP primaries. However, he's dipped a toe into some markets with the heavy Latino populations, making buys in Raleigh, N.C., and Cleveland.

But there's evidence that his campaign is preparing to step on the gas with the appearance of some new messaging that was crafted specifically for Latinos. Earlier this week, it released a new spot featuring the youngest Romney son, Craig, a former Mormon missionary to Chile, speaking fluent Spanish in a testimonial to his father's character. The translated title of the spot is "I Invite You," and the younger Mr. Romney says, "He's a man of great convictions. He's been married to my mom for over 40 years, and together they have five children and 18 grandchildren." The campaign has launched a Spanish-language website as well.

Its appearance also suggests that the Romney camp is taking a page from George W. Bush's playbook by tapping a Spanish-speaking family member to conduct outreach to Latinos. (In Mr. Bush's case, it was his brother, Jeb, the former governor of Florida.)

"Latinos want to hear from this candidate why he should be their choice," said Joe DelGrosso, exec VP-managing director of political and advocacy sales at Univision.

Mr. DelGrosso also noted that it's abundantly clear that the Obama campaign is taking seriously the mission of reinvigorating the Latino supporters who helped elect him. It began buying up Univision TV time in Florida, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada on April 18, easily the earliest ever for a presidential contest.

In an election where historic spending is expected, it follows that political ads might start appearing earlier across media, but there's anecdotal evidence to suggest that Hispanic media is becoming a bigger priority in the grander scheme of the campaign. According to Enrique Perez, senior VP-sales for Telemundo, his network's Miami station started running Spanish-language Obama ads in mid-April, which was before any of his English-language ads began circulating in the market. In the 2008 election, there was no serious spending at Telemundo from either side until just prior to the Republican National Convention in early September.

"I can't remember a time in my entire career where a candidate has launched with Spanish prior to English in a presidential campaign," he said.

In Las Vegas, the messaging to Latino voters this election cycle began last fall when Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS Super PAC bought TV time, followed by the Democratic National Committee, according to Chris Roman, VP-general manager at Entravision Communications' Las Vegas media properties, which include Univision, Telefutura and LATV affiliates. The Obama campaign got on the air in March and has stayed there, but the Romney camp only made its first buy three weeks ago with a dubbed version of his"Day One" ad (in which he outlines what he'll do in his first day in office.)

According to Mr. Roman, the Obama and Romney camps are currently roughly even in terms of "share of voice" on the air, but SEIU is outspending both of them and now capturing roughly 40% to 42% of air time among presidential advertisers. But while SEIU's investment is major, its strategy isn't new. The Democratic PAC Patriotic Majority ran a TV ad blitz during the 2010 Nevada Senate race showing a cross-section of Nevadan Latinos bashing Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle.

"That probably eroded her even more than the [Harry] Reid campaign ads," he said.

And while it was once the case that Hispanic media was an afterthought for candidates, and campaign operatives would only start buying a few weeks before an election when early voting began, Mr. Roman is now having an easier time having conversations.

"It used to be that I had to chase these folks," he said. "Now, all of a sudden, they come."

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