Barack Obama gazes directly into the camera and speaks in his warmest baritone.
“In the young people known as the DREAMers,” he begins, referring to the young undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children who have led a movement seeking a path to citizenship, “I see the same qualities that Michelle and I try to instill in our daughters.”
Images of Obama with his family, followed by intently studying Latino students, fill the screen. “As a father, they inspire me,” Obama concludes. “And as President, their bravery has reminded me that no obstacle is too large, and no road is too long.”
If you haven’t heard the President speaking these words, it’s probably because he said them in Spanish. The message came in a campaign ad that aired earlier this month in Colorado, Florida, Nevada, Ohio, and Virginia, five swing states with large Latino populations. The spot is part of a finely tuned Spanish-language ad campaign launched by President Obama: a campaign whose strategy, style and sophistication contrast sharply with the Spanish-language ads of his Republican rival Mitt Romney.
CJR’s review of both campaigns’ Spanish TV spots found dramatic disparities in their approaches. The Obama campaign’s ads focus on issues specific to the Latino community—such as the DREAM Act and immigration—while the Romney spots echo his national messages about the economy, deficits and broken promises by the president. Obama ads often feature Latino narrators, whose national origin sometimes mirrors a particular community targeted by the spot, while Romney ads tend to show the candidates and statistics and images related to the economy. In short, President Obama has a special message for Latino voters—which his campaign is communicating in Spanish.
An Obama ad that aired in September in Florida—where Democrats are hoping that a growing Puerto Rican population in the Orlando area will balance the conservative Cuban voting bloc in Miami—focused on Puerto Rican Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor.
“My name is Nydia. I am a lawyer and I am Boricua [Puerto Rican],” begins narrator Nydia Menendez. “When [Sotomayor] was nominated by President Obama, we all celebrated—Puerto Ricans and all Hispanics.”
Menendez then expresses her anger that Mitt Romney opposed Sotomayor’s nomination. She finishes: “Mister Romney, the time has come to pay the bill.”
Even Obama ads that make familiar arguments by his campaign—that he is moving the economy forward while Romney would restore the policies of the Bush Administration—do so with a special flare in Spanish. A spot entitled “De Eso Nada” (“None of That”) that aired in five swing states in September features Cristina Saralegui, a television personality sometimes referred to as the “Hispanic Oprah.”
In the ad, Saralegui credits the president’s leadership with reversing the recession and warns that Romney and Ryan would bring back the policies that caused it. “Going backward? None of that!” she proclaims. “Forward—with Obama!”
In Spanish, the message rhymes: “Pa’tras? De eso nada!” Saralegui declares, snaking her neck in disgust. “Pa’lante—con Obama!” she concludes with a wink and a smile.
By contrast, Spanish-language advertisements by the Romney campaign have largely mirrored both the message and the style of his national spots. An ad released in early October called “Merecemos” (“We Deserve”) featured Romney speaking in English with Spanish subtitles and addressing Latinos as entrepreneurs.
“America’s entrepreneurial spirit is alive in the Hispanic community,” Romney says. “Our economic recovery needs the success of the Hispanic community, but President Obama’s misguided policies are dragging down businesses. You deserve better. We must end unnecessary regulations and cut taxes. I’ll work to help you create jobs.”
Three Spanish-language spots by Romney hammer Obama on the growing national debt and what they describe as a legacy of broken promises. One spot begins with Obama declaring “Si se puede!” (“Yes we can”) to a large crowd and then switches to close-ups of a succession of Latino voters lamenting that he has failed to create jobs or keep his promises. Another ad entitled “No Podemos Mas (“We Can’t Take Anymore”) cites current Latino unemployment and poverty rates and finishes on a pointed note: “When Obama and his Democratic allies tell us ‘Yes we can,’ we have to tell them, ‘We can’t take anymore,’” says the narrator.
While most of Romney’s Spanish ads are translations of his national messages, several have made direct appeals to Latino voters. Two spots released in July featured Romney’s son Craig, who speaks excellent Spanish and looks almost as if he could be Latino. Craig warmly introduces his father and in one ad highlights that his grandfather—Mitt’s father George Romney—was born in Mexico. A third Spanish ad released in four swing states in September features popular Florida Senator Marco Rubio reassuring voters that Romney’s Medicare plans will strengthen the program for senior citizens like Rubio’s mother.