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In 2008, Barack Obama captured two-thirds of the Hispanic vote, winning in crucial swing states with large Hispanic populations like Colorado, Nevada and Florida.
The president's re-election campaign is attempting to replicate that success for 2012, targeting those same states with this week's launch of its first set of Spanish-language television and radio ads.
In four separate ads, Latino campaign organizers recount personal stories as reasons for supporting the president, focusing on education.
In one ad, Obama volunteer Lynette Acosta explains the importance of a college degree to her and her family: "Without the help of loans, I would not have been able to study," Acosta says in the ad. "That's why everything the president has done to increase access to funding is so important. ... My mother says, 'The best gift you could give me is a diploma that I can hang on the living room wall.' "
The Romney campaign also recognizes the critical importance of the Hispanic vote. This week, the Republican National Committee announced its appointment of Hispanic outreach state directors in the swing states of Colorado, Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina and Virginia.
Marisa Abrajano, author of Campaigning to the New American Electorate: Advertising to Latino Voters, and a political science professor at University of California, San Diego, says starting the discussion with education is a smart way to approach Latino voters.
"Education has traditionally been an important issue and continues to be an important issue for Latino voters," Abrajano said in an email interview with NPR.
Abrajano says the ads are effective because they focus on policy issues rather than broad campaign themes. The Obama campaign said the president's efforts to increase funding for Pell Grants helped nearly 2 million Hispanics pay for college.
"Campaign messages that emphasize informative policy are much more effective at mobilizing Latinos than messages containing little to no policy appeals," says Abarajano. "So, policy messages that actually explain what Obama has accomplished while he has been in office, such as increasing funding for Pell Grants and Head Start, are the right kinds of messages to advertise."
In 2008, the Obama campaign created "Viva Obama" clubs and ran on the stump slogan "Si, se puede," Spanish for "Yes, we can," which Abrajano says was used often by the late labor organizer Cesar Chavez. (It was also, of course, Obama's English-language slogan in 2008.)
This year, the campaign is kicking off its Spanish-language outreach efforts with the slogan "Estamos Unidos," Spanish for "We are united."
"This year's theme of togetherness and unity may speak to the larger issue of polarization that's facing the nation as a whole," says Abrajano. "It may also hint at the idea that Democrats need to stay together and be united because of the way Republicans have been treating Latinos on the issue of immigration in recent years."
A new Quinnipiac University poll this week showed Obama retaining about a two-thirds lead over Romney among potential Hispanic voters.
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