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Is Outreach To Latina Voters Pandering?


This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Maria Hinojosa. Michel Martin is away. Now, it's time for our visit to the Beauty Shop. That's where we get a fresh look at the week's news with a panel of women writers, journalists and commentators.

Sitting in their chairs for a new do this week are Viviana Hurtado, blogger-in-chief of the website, The Wise Latina Club. She joins me in our Washington studio. Also in D.C., Mary Kate Cary, columnist and blogger for U.S. News and World Report. She's also a former speechwriter for President H.W. Bush. Danielle Belton is editor-at-large at Clutch magazine online. She's also the founder of the pop culture and politics blog, The Black Snob. She joins us from St. Louis today. And, new to the Barber Shop - the Beauty Shop, (unintelligible). Suddenly, I'm thinking Barber. No. New to the Beauty Shop, we have Maria Cardona. She's a contributor to CNN and MommyVerse.com. She's also in our D.C. studios.

So welcome to all of you.


MARY KATE CARY: Great to be here.

DANIELLE BELTON: Thanks for having us, Maria.


HINOJOSA: All right, Maria, since you're new on the block, let's begin with an event that you were involved with. Yesterday, you moderated a conversation between first lady, Michelle Obama, and contributors to MommyVerse.com. That's a news and lifestyle website for Latinas. The conversation was streamed live online.

One of the topics that came up was the need for more parental involvement in education. Here's something the first lady shared about that.

MICHELLE OBAMA: I'm so proud that my husband, even in his role, has not missed a parent-teacher conference and I share that with fathers out there because, you know...

CARDONA: No one else has an excuse.

OBAMA: Right. You know, but it's - you know, and it's important for the kids to know that he's making that a priority.

HINOJOSA: Maria Cardona, you're a political strategist. Why do you think that the Obama Administration connected Mrs. Obama to MommyVerse and Latinas?

CARDONA: Well, I think that one of the things that we have heard so much about this election cycle is how important the Latino vote is going to be and we've been hearing that for years, frankly. But I think this administration really understands two things. First, that the Latino vote was critical in already getting the president elected in 2008. He would not have turned certain states blue had it not been for the Latino vote and they also understand that he won't get reelected again if they don't do either the same percentage that they did in terms of support with the Latino vote this time around, or more.

So I think this is part of an effort that they understand they need to do and I think they also understand - and this was part of what was so amazing about the conversation yesterday. I think that this really comes natural and is very organic for Mrs. Obama because she really does understand the struggles that women of color are going through - and, frankly, women all over the country - because she is a mother, because her children are young and because she believes that she needs to really focus on making sure that their lives are as normal as possible.

She can really relate to what a lot of women are going through, so I think that this was part of the administration's effort to get to a critical demographic within a critical demographic, which are Latina mothers.

We had a survey on MommyVerse.com back at the beginning of the year that basically showed that a third of Latina mothers' votes were still up for grabs and that Latina mothers were going to be very concentrated on what the issues were this election cycle. And, for them, it was the economy and it was education and that's why you saw that conversation yesterday.

HINOJOSA: All right. So you know what? I'm wondering about you, Viviana, because there was not a lot of challenging going on in this MommyVerse meeting with Michelle Obama. So you've been invited to the White House and these events. What do you think about this? I mean, there was no serious questioning putting Mrs. Obama on the spot, you know, on a lot of the issues that the Latino community want to hear about in terms of immigration reform, for example.

So, as a journalist, do you feel like you're being used for political purposes when this happens?

HURTADO: And that's always the tightrope that we're walking. In fact, you might remember that, when the Latina bloggers went to the White House about six weeks ago or so, it was billed by the White House as, at first (unintelligible), a meeting - a briefing for several - White House briefing with Latina mommy bloggers.

And then there was a bit of a to do because about half of us, at least, are not mommy bloggers, even though there are women who are mothers, but they are food blogging or they are lifestyle blogging.

HINOJOSA: So they kind of got it wrong?

HURTADO: And so - well, the point was - speaking to what Maria is saying - this is a very powerful subgroup within a growing segment of the population in the voting block.

HINOJOSA: So, essentially, Latinas have become the new soccer moms?

HURTADO: Definitely football mommies, which is something that I know...

HINOJOSA: Football mommies.

HURTADO: ...Maria has talked about. But I think what's really important to say is that this was a masterful, I think, stroke of outreach, one that is consistently - that the White House and the Obama campaign has been consistently deploying since at least last year, engaging with the Latino community and with Latino journalists.

And it's left me with the question. Remember high school or college English class, reading "Waiting for Godot?" Many of us who are independent journalists are waiting for Mitt Romney and we're trying to figure out what kind of outreach is the Romney campaign going to do with the Latino community?

HINOJOSA: Which is why the question I was going to ask Mary Kate. So the Romney campaign, we understand, has not reached out to MamiVerse or two other Latina bloggers. So if you were a White House insider would you advise the campaign to have Ann Romney essentially do a similar event, and do you think it would go the same way?

CARY: Yeah. I think it was a very smart move for the White House to have Michelle Obama do this and I certainly would recommend the Romney campaign do the same thing. Today, they launched their eight Spanish language ad. Craig Romney, one of his sons, speaks Spanish fluently after being on a mission, I think, in Chile and they've launched a Spanish language website as well. So I think they are getting there. I just sat and read through their whole platform on immigration on their website, and I thought it was actually pretty good. And so I think it's not monolithic, the Latino vote.

As Maria just said, a third of the women's vote is up for grabs. Romney actually does better - if you look at the polls - amongst second generation immigrants who have been in the country for a while. For those people, the immigration platform isn't as important. They're much more concerned about the economy. Unemployment amongst Latinos is very high, 11 percent, which is above the national average. Amongst young people who are Hispanic, 16 to 19 years old, it's a third, you know, it's 31 percent. He's got some openings, I think, with the Catholics in the swing states when we talk about the Affordable Care Act and the HHS Mandate for free abortion services. I think that is going to play out as well within the Hispanic community.

HINOJOSA: But it does seem like...

CARY: So he's got some openings.

HINOJOSA: But it does seem a little bit like he's playing catch-up and still doesn't have a clear vision of that.


CARY: I would agree with that. And I think he would be the first to say that, that he has a lot of work to do.

HINOJOSA: And Danielle, let me bring you in, Danielle. The White House has, of course, reached out to African-American bloggers last fall. But how much in terms of voters does reaching out to social media and these players really connect to the larger community?

BELTON: I think what it really does is kind of engender some goodwill. But it only really works if you're really on semi-solid footage with the constituency you're trying to appeal to. Because this is kind of like, it's a small thing, it's an easy way to get some of like some good publicity, some good press targeting a particular community. But if you don't already have good inroads in place, a lot of times it can come off as superficial. So the important thing for someone, you know, like Mitt Romney is to really push. If he has a platform that he thinks Latinos or African-Americans would be accept, you know, be interested in, he really needs to push it hard because he's trying to overcome a perception issue, where you have many within the Republican Party who seemed openly hostile to, you know, immigration reform or various issues that involve or pertain to minorities in the United States. So he's always going to be fighting this with one hand tied behind his back, where people are going to be really judgmental and critical of whatever he does.

HINOJOSA: So what happens when you have the MamiVerse conversation essentially, Maria, and you know you're a political animal...

CARDONA: Mm-hmm.

HINOJOSA: ...being very light?

CARDONA: Well, let's make something very clear. That's exactly what this was supposed to be. This was not billed as a hard-hitting interview-roundtable with Latino moms to put Mrs. Obama on the spot, by any means. And what it was billed as - and what it was - was a conversation and an opportunity for Mrs. Obama to listen directly from Latina mothers about the issues that they care about, about what keeps them up at night. And we did see a myriad of issues that came up, not just on education, but on health care and on nutrition. And, you know, all of these issues that these and - stem, for example - and all of these issues that these Latina moms were concerned about.

And so I think that that was, that was the historic nature of this. That even the fact that Michelle Obama was having this conversation with Latina mothers directly from them, you know, not filtered in any way, I think was the historic nature. And that is what really differentiates the Obama campaign from the Romney campaign at this moment.

HINOJOSA: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Maria Hinojosa and you're listening to our Beauty Shop roundtable. We're joined now by U.S. News & World Report columnist Mary Kate Cary; Danielle Belton, editor-at-large of Clutch Magazine online; Viviana Hurtado, founding blogger of The Wise Latino Club; and Maria Cardona, contributor to CNN and Mamiverse.com.

OK. We're moving on to our next topic. Mmm.


HINOJOSA: It involves that word - Kardashian. Reality television star who one columnist praised for making a tough parenting choice; Kris Jenner, mother of the Kardashian sisters, Kim, Khloe, Kourtney - I feel like I'm in "Saturday Night Live..."


HINOJOSA: ...Jenner is not often cited as a good example of motherhood. But Keli Goff of the website Loop21 says she did just that. She wrote that Kris Jenner made the right choice getting her daughter Kim birth control pills before she turned 16. Here's a clip of Jenner talking about that decision:


KRIS JENNER: When my girls were growing up and Kim came to me and, you know, was very honest with me and said, mommy, I think I'm feeling, you know, sexual and this and that, I drove as fast as I could to the gynecologist office and I...


HINOJOSA: OK. That was Kris Jenner on the television show "Bethany." Reaction to Jenner's choices range from approval to total horror.


HINOJOSA: Either way, it's got parents talking about how to handle teen sexuality. And I'll tell you, it definitely got me definitely thinking about this. Mary Kate Cary, you have two teenage daughters, so I'm going to start with you. So when you think of Jenner's decision and what has your experience been?

CARY: Well, I gave up trying to figure out the Kardashians a long time ago. So I...


HINOJOSA: Good. Good. Not, not...

CARY: ...so I'm not too comfortable talking about her decision with her children. As far as my kids go, we - you know, my parents sat us down for one conversation and one conversation only.

HINOJOSA: Well, you're lucky you got one.

CARY: We got one. My husband's parents, he basically was told if you ever have any questions let us know.


CARY: And so he got less than a full conversation. We've decided, I think, to have many, many conversations over time so that it's not this high-stakes awful situation where you have to talk to your kids in a stressful way. The way I like to couch it with my girls is, tell me what your hopes and dreams are and what could stop you from achieving those? Let's say you want to be a Division I athlete, would getting pregnant be a good idea if you are 17 and you want to play D1, you know, lacrosse or something? Let's say you want to be a world-class musician in the symphony, would getting on heroin be a great idea if you want to accomplish that? And so we couch it in terms of choices that can stop you cold...

HINOJOSA: OK, I'm going to put you on the spot. So let me talk about birth control with them?

CARY: Yes. But...

HINOJOSA: Like very specifically?

CARY: Yes. But we are not ready to go there yet and, but we've certainly talked about it and why people use it and why it's a good thing in the long run, but they're just too young I think.

HINOJOSA: I think for me the thing that really freaked me out was the fact that Kris Jenner essentially is saying if you put your daughter on birth control pills, problem solved.

CARY: Mm-hmm.

HINOJOSA: And that's where I get horrified.

CARY: Yeah.

HINOJOSA: Because I'm just like, oh my god, can we talk about all of the sexually transmitted diseases, infections...

CARY: Right.

HINOJOSA: ...all about that stuff that a birth control pill is not going to do anything for you?

CARY: Right.

HINOJOSA: Daniel Belton, what about your parents? Was their approach with you helpful?

BELTON: I would say yes, greatly. I mean, my parents had a pretty good strategy when it came dealing with this because like many people of their generation, no one talked to them about sex at all. My mother didn't learn about how her own body worked until she was a 20-year-old student in college taking a human biology class. So she was horrified that she had to wait so late in life to learn this. And she did not want me and my sisters learning about it and she said, in the street, even though we were never allowed to go out in the street, you know, we just went to school.


BELTON: So I guess it was more so learning it from other children who had learned it also incorrectly. So my mother had a very lengthy biology-based conversation with me when I was 9 just about how puberty worked and how my body worked and what I could expect in the next couple of years. And it was a fun conversation. She had booklets and she had charts, so it was almost like science.


BELTON: For me it was like learning about any other thing because I love animals and I love science, so it was fun. And we kept those conversations going as I got older. My mother really opened up a dialogue where I could ask her about anything. So if I did hear something at school from my peers I didn't think sounded right, I could just approach her about it and say hey, mommy, you know, what's up with this, and she would try to answer to the best of her abilities. And if she didn't know the answer, we had a whole set of World Book encyclopedias and we would break those out.


HINOJOSA: No. You know, and for me as a mom of a 16-year-old, a 16-year-old boy and a 14-year-old girl, what it means to me is to have a conversation over and over again.

CARY: Mm-hmm.



HINOJOSA: And we did start pretty young, frankly.


HINOJOSA: Maria, you're kids are still young...


HINOJOSA: ...but you, just talking about this has made you say, oh my god, I don't want to think about this.

CARDONA: Yes. I have a 5-year-old girl, Maya Luna, and my son Sebastian, is 7, so, hopefully, I have some years to figure this out. But I do think going back to what my parents did with me; they were not as open as I would've hoped. In fact, I had to ask my mother because I was hearing from my friends. But I do remember this, and this gets me to what the Kardashians did or whatever. I don't even know how to couch that.


CARDONA: My father, when I was very young, like 9 or 10, I remember we were going to get something at like the JC Penneys. But he just a sort of offhandedly started talking about, you know, little boys and then talked about how I'm going to be going on dates and he told me he never kiss a boy on the first date. And that really stuck with me. It really stuck with me. So, you know, going back to I'm not going to deal with this in the next several years but I think having those conversations over and over are going to be what's going to help.

CARY: Yeah.

HINOJOSA: All right. A lot of talking needs to be done. All right. We're going to move on. OK. What kind of a segueway is this? All right. Ladies, be honest. Who of you have seen this movie?



ACTOR: (as character) The star of the show, Mr. Magic Mike.



HINOJOSA: Danielle Belton in St. Louis, you saw the movie...

BELTON: I did.

HINOJOSA: But was that just for the story...


HINOJOSA: ...reporting or really, did you go see...

CARY: In-depth research.



BELTON: No. Well, you know, it was research. You know, I like to try to stay on top of things.



CARDONA: Let's just not go there.

HINOJOSA: No she didn't.


BELTON: Right. You know, I went on my own accord when it opened because I was very curious. I like Soderbergh. It seemed like a fun, fun concept to, you know, see how it would play out on screen, so I did.

HINOJOSA: And the movie title, by the way, because we didn't mention it, is "Magic Mike," starring Channing Tatum, of course. And it's not just about male strippers. It's really about, I don't know, life in America. But did you enjoy it?


BELTON: I did enjoy it. I mean, what was, a lot of the chatter has been about whether it's objectifying men but it was a very male story, even though it was about male strippers. It was about their feelings, their hopes, their dreams, their perception of things, their ambitions. And, you know, once again, I mean, for a Hollywood film, I mean, the women were still just kind of like stock characters. You are either the girlfriend or you were some evil woman.

HINOJOSA: All right. You already saw it. Are you going? Yes or no, Maria Cardona?

CARDONA: Viviana, Mary Kate and I are going to go see it.

CARY: You got it, baby.


HINOJOSA: Oh, my god. So that's it for - done.

CARDONA: But we can't say for research.

HINOJOSA: All the ladies...

CARY: I'll bring the wine.


HURTADO: This is Viviana. Not for research for NPR.


HINOJOSA: What did we just unleash here? All right. Women, thank you so much for joining us. Viviana Hurtado is blogger-in-chief of the website The Wise Latina Club. Mary Kate Cary is a columnist with U.S. News & World Report, also a former speechwriter for former President George Bush. Maria Cardona is a contributor to CNN and MamiVerse.com. And they were all here in Washington in our studios. Danielle Belton is The Black Snob. That's her pop culture and politics blog. She's the editor-at-large at Clutch Magazine online and she joined us from St. Louis.

Mujeres, thank you so much.

CARDONA: Thank you, Maria.

BELTON: Thank you.

CARY: My pleasure.

HURTADO: Great to be here.

HINOJOSA: And that's our program for today. I'm Maria Hinojosa and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.