As Election Day neared, Imperial Irrigation District Division 5 candidate James William Horn Jr. sat late into the night on Monday making calls to potential voters.
Expecting it to be a tight race, Horn said he was considering using his credit card to pay for a last-minute $6,000 radio advertisement — in Spanish.
“I have to convince my wife,” he said, referring to his plan.
Here in the Valley, the importance of reaching out to the Spanish-speaking electorate is not lost on Horn.
“If you can convince them you’re looking out for their best interest,” Horn said, “that person is going to win the election.”
Echoing similar sentiments, IID Division 4 candidate Steve Benson also acknowledged he probably spent more on Spanish-language advertisements than on English-language ads.
“They’re the majority,” he said. “You have to be able to connect with the majority.”
The prominent use of his family in campaign ads is also something that he said Latino voters who place a high premium on family values should find appealing.
Aside from the radio ads, all of his campaign material was also bilingual. Commuters may have also seen a billboard of his near the border in Mexicali in recent days.
The Brawley resident said he had also walked a lot of Valley precincts where Spanish was needed to effectively communicate.
“My Spanish has gotten a lot better,” Benson said.
For IID Division 4 incumbent Stella Mendoza, walking such precincts makes her feel at ease.
“It makes a difference being able to go and talk to them in their native language,” she said, adding that her heritage is something of a “double-edged sword,” and may prompt just as many constituents to not vote for her.
Long known to typically have lower voter turnout rates than the general population, Mendoza said she still makes it a point to target the Valley’s heavily Hispanic precincts.
“It’s never a waste of time,” she said, noting that her campaign will be employing 10 vehicles countywide to shuttle voters to and from the ballot box.
Although she encountered a good number of residents who are ineligible to vote because of their legal status, she was encouraged to find about a third of them in the process of becoming naturalized citizens, she said.
Choosing a strategy similar to what he used in his previous campaigns for public office, IID Division 5 candidate Wally Leimgruber said he settled on direct mailers to 5,000 Valley residents.
The bilingual mailers specifically targeted those areas of the county that had the “highest propensity” for voter turnout, Leimgruber said.
In such a tightly contested countywide race such as the IID Division 5 race, the Latino vote is not to be ignored, he said.
As someone who speaks and understands Spanish, Leimgruber nonetheless employs a pair of bilingual campaign committee members.
“They have been extremely helpful in reaching out to the Valley,” he said.
Having worked as a political consultant on the regional, national and international level, Frank Salazar said he has noticed changes in campaign strategies this election cycle.
While he said the need to use bilingual material to reach the local electorate is hardly a novel idea, it does create additional work for candidates.
In the future, candidates who fail to muster the proper amount of resources to carry out comprehensive campaign strategies will jeopardize their candidacies.
A gradual move toward direct mailers, focus groups and polling will be the strategic tools of choice for public office seekers, he said.
“By all means it is a positive development,” Salazar said.
Such extensive campaign efforts highlight a candidate’s drive and organizational skills, which can translate well into the sphere of making public policy decisions.
“(Candidates) need to have a well-oiled machine,” he said.
Whereas in the past a local candidate could rely on getting their message out by simply inviting the public to a community gathering, a different approach is needed today.
“The days of carne asada candidates are gone,” Salazar said, referring to such old-time campaigning tactics.
Staff Writer, Copy Editor Julio Morales can be reached at 760-337-3415 or at email@example.com
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