New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson endorsed Democratic contender Barack Obama Friday, with news reports underscoring the significance it might have for Obama's standing among Hispanics.
There is little question that Obama needs help from Hispanic voters. In Gallup Poll Daily tracking data collected between March 1 and March 16, Obama trailed Hillary Clinton among white, Hispanic Democrats by 22 percentage points, 59% to 37% Obama trailed by 15 points among non-Hispanic whites. And, as is widely known, Obama gets the overwhelming majority (80%) of the black Democratic vote.
The question remains: Will the Richardson endorsement make a big difference?
We know from previous analysis that although Richardson was the only Hispanic candidate in the race this year (until he dropped out on Jan. 10), he was not dominating among Hispanic voters. One of the reasons he was not leading the Hispanic vote may have been because voters who didn't follow the news closely didn't readily identify Richardson as Hispanic. (Richardson's father lived and worked in Mexico, his mother was Mexican, and he spent his early years in Mexico City.)
In an official e-mail statement Friday, Richardson called attention to his ethnic background, "As a Hispanic, I was particularly touched by his [Obama's] words. I have been troubled by the demonization of immigrants -- specifically Hispanics -- by too many in this country. Hate crimes against Hispanics are rising as a direct result and now, in tough economic times, people look for scapegoats and I fear that people will continue to exploit our racial differences -- and place blame on others not like them."
Of course, in a general sense, every endorsement helps if the endorser is well known and not controversial. The Obama campaign must think Richardson's endorsement is important since they featured it front and center on their official campaign Web site Friday morning.
There is also the issue that Richardson's endorsement may not do a lot of good for Obama in his quest to seal his bid for the Democratic nomination because of the primary calendar. The big states with Democratic primaries yet to come -- Pennsylvania in particular, but also North Carolina, Indiana, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oregon -- do not have disproportionately large Hispanic populations. So there are relatively few Hispanic voters to influence in these states. Puerto Rico, a Spanish-speaking commonwealth of the United States, holds its Democratic primary on June 1, but it is unclear how the endorsement of a relatively remote governor of New Mexico with Mexican ancestry might affect Puerto Rican voters.
Of course, if Obama wins the Democratic nomination, then the Hispanic vote could be important, particularly in crucial swing states such as Florida and New Mexico.