It was no coincidence that gubernatorial Republican candidate Meg Whitman aired Spanish-language ads during the World Cup soccer match between Mexico and France. Her campaign spokesman, Hector Barajas, compares it to the "Super Bowl" of advertising if you want to get to Latino voters. It's an all out media blitz to engage and convince nearly 20% of California voters to cast their ballot for Whitman in November.
A Spanish speaker voices over the video of Whitman in various workplace, social and classroom settings surrounded mostly by Latinos. There is one shot toward the end when she's also posing with an Asian and a Caucasian woman to relay that her message of change includes everyone.
But it's the message about her opposition to Prop 187 (which sought to limit services to undocumented immigrants) and the controversial Arizona law that stands out the most. The softer tone that points to a pivot in her campaign rhetoric.
"She's a political chameleon," says Pedro Rios director of American Friends Service Committee, a human rights organization which specializes in border issues. She wanted to appear tough on illegal immigration during the primary against opponent Republican Steve Poizner with her message of securing the border and beefing up security, he says. But now her ads depict her as being less "mean-spirited," Rios goes on to say. He doesn't trust her, " I'm skeptical what her position as governor would be, it's not clear how much she would support Latinos. She's speaking out of both sides of her mouth. "
Rios says too that the new Latino voter (those whom he defines as having registered within the last 4 to 5 years) studies the immigration issue closely. "It's the topic of everyday conversation, it's part of everyday dinner conversation because, (those affected) have family members who may be legal residents but are not citizens." He also said the newer voters who may represent nearly half the Latino vote are more likely to express their opinion through the ballot.
At a coffee shop in San Diego some Latinos who noticed the ads during the World Cup told an NBCSanDiego colleague of mine, reporter Katia Lopez-Hodoyan that, they noticed Whitman's name for the first time because of the commercial and that her message against Prop 187 and the Arizona law stood out the most .
Whitman's campaign says it's stand on illegal immigration has been the same since day one and they're making a grassroots effort to visit communities like Southgate where Barajas says the Latino population is 90% and East L.A.
The Whitman media blitz is covering the American and Spanish radio and tv stations and newspapers with different versions of the ads in Spanish. There's also a Spanish language website and one in Chinese.
The key to a successful ad is whether the consumer remembers the product. It's still months away until the election -- which promises a ton of ads -- will come. It will be interesting to see who gets the vote, no matter what language it's in.