Nation & World

Californian loses DNC seat, but wins voter recruitment plan

DENVER — When the clock strikes midnight Thursday after Barack Obama's convention acceptance speech, Sacramento Superdelegate Steven Ybarra will lose his seat on the Democratic National Committee.

That is the apparent political price for a brash publicity stunt the 61-year-old Sacramento City College professor and veteran voting rights activist pulled off to dramatize what he felt was his party’s urgent need to compete for Latino votes.

So now the party superdelegate – who drew national attention last spring with his mock offer to sell his vote to Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton for a $20 million pledge for Latino voter outreach – is working swank hotel ballrooms and party caucuses to inspire an Hispanic turnout for Obama.

Neither candidate responded to Ybarra’s superdelegate ploy. He lost his re-election bid to state party leadership post – and thus his DNC seat. And then an interesting thing happened: the party pledged $20 million for a sophisticated voter recruitment effort.

The effort by the Obama campaign is to direct internet, television and radio appeals to English-speaking Latinos under 35 and to Spanish-speaking Latinos over 35. The effort seeks to drive up mail voting and Democratic turnout in four critical swing states - New Mexico, Florida, Colorado and Arizona – with large populations of eligible Hispanic voters.

The McCain campaign is responding with a Latino outreach including its “Estamos con McMain” website and campaign tours in the swing states and California by Latino military veteran Everett Alvarez, who was a prisoner-of-war with McCain in Vietnam.

Ybarra, a tall, barrel-chested man with a Fu-Manchu mustache who describes himself as an activist son of an railroad foreman and “union thug,” works to lock in Latinos who overwhelming supported Hillary Clinton over Obama in the primaries.

In late July, the nationwide Pew Hispanic Center poll found Obama had picked up much of her Latino support and led McCain among Latinos by 66 to 23 percent. But Ybarra says Democrats will lose if Obama doesn’t get 70 percent.

“If we win Reno, we win Nevada,” he says. “If we win Yuma, we win Arizona. If we win Colorado. If we take Homestead, we take Florida and the election.”

Though Ybarra insists his superdelegate vote was never for sale, some party leaders weren’t exactly pleased with his bombast and the national press it got.

Sam Rodriguez, a former California Democratic Party political director who consults with the Obama campaign, praised Ybarra’s skills as field director in getting out the vote. But he took issue with uncomfortable inferences to vote-selling – theatrical or not.

“Sometimes words do matter,” said Rodriguez, who said the Democrats’ $20 million outlay had nothing to do with Ybarra.

Janet Murguía, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza, expressed surprise and pleasure after learning in Denver about the stand he took.

“That’s one way to do it,” Murguía exclaimed. “If these candidates want to win, they need to invest in doing that.”

Murguía said Democrats have too long assumed the Latino vote was its domain. She said the party got a jolt in 2004 presidential election when President Bush – former governor of a heavily Latino state – got 40 percent of the Hispanic vote.

On Tuesday, Ybarra, wearing an American flag vest and sandals revealing toes missing from a construction accident, ebulliently greeted at a Latino Leaders Network Luncheon featuring New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, former Denver Mayor and Energy Secretary Federico Federico Peña.

He was fawned over by U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez of Orange County. Paula Villescaz, a 19-year-old delegate from Sacramento, applauded him for securing the $20 million.

“I’m sorry you didn’t get your seat back,” Villescaz said. “But that’s a great accomplishment.” Then he turned to Reuben Duarte, a 22-year-old UC Berkeley student and at-large Democratic delegate and, in one quick conversation, lined up a recruit for voter outreach:

Ybarra: “Are you ready for Reno?” Duarte: “Yes” Ybarra: How’s your Spanish?” Duarte: “Bad.” Ybarra: “Stick around. It will get better.”