Race + Politics: Univision Flexes Some Muscle

By Arturo R. García

With the Latino electorate emerging more and more as a key constituency, the dust-up over this commercial highlights the tightrope both President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will have to walk in engaging with not only this diverse array of voters, but the media outlets they follow.

In the ad, Univision News anchor Jorge Ramos is shown saying, “Close to 46 million Americans do not have health insurance.” The ad–not Ramos himself–goes on to tout Obama’s Healthcare Reform Bill. The commercial is part of the opening salvo in a $4 million advertising campaign pitched toward Spanish-speaking households.

On Monday, Ramos, the host of Univision’s Al Punto, closed the program denouncing the Obama campaign for using his image in the ad. Courtesy of Mediaite, here’s Ramos’ commentary:

And here’s the English translation:

A few hours ago the Obama reelection campaign aired an ad using my image and that of Noticias Univisión. I want to make clear that I reject the use of my likeness and that of Noticias Univisión in any election campaign. We have let the Obama campaign and the White House know, and we want to leave a public notice of our disagreement. We have always defended our journalistic integrity and will always continue to do so.

As Frances Martel points out, Ramos’ statement comes just a few days after an interview with Obama’s senior campaign advisor, David Axelrod, where Axelrod dismissed the prospect of Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) as a running mate for Romney as “an insult to the Hispanic community.”

Martel takes some issue with Axelrod’s flippancy about a Romney/Rubio ticket, which he justified by citing Romney’s past promises to veto the DREAM Act and a past endorsement by Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, an association that’s already being used against him:

As was repeated ad nauseum during the Republican primaries, immigration is not an important issue to much of the Latin American community, and especially to Latin Americans from the Caribbean – the natural-born citizens of Puerto Rico; the political exiles of Cuba that call Sen. Rubio one of their own. Plenty of recent polls show that immigration is not the most important issue in the Latino community–education is–yet people like Axelrod continue to brandish Sheriff Arpaio as a bogeyman while claiming any respect for Latin American senators is a sign that Latinos are being used to court votes and that is “insulting.”

But with respect, there’s room to counter Martel’s position, too: for one, the poll she’s citing doesn’t include Latinos from either California or New York, which opens up a whole other realm of discussions that would almost assuredly put more emphasis on immigration. It is also unclear whether surveys like these reach Latino voters who are already rejecting Rubio’s own version of the DREAM Act, which does not guarantee citizenship for qualified students–a version already frowned upon by Romney’s supporters–or the political aggression being practiced in Arizona by Arpaio, Governor Jan Brewer and Tucson school officials.

As the Republican nominee, Romney must now also be wary of things he’s not even directly associated with: how does his team think Latino voters in Florida will respond to being disproportionately targeted by their Republican governor’s voter-suppression drive?

None of this, by the way, should excuse the Obama administration from having to answer for its own policies regarding immigrants. And Ramos is justified in objecting to his likeness and reputation being used as ad fodder–when your network has in your target audience, not to mention an English-language sister network on the way, you can send that kind of message. Both Obama and Romney should be listening intently from here on out.