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Oregon candidates avoiding Spanish-language ads

SALEM &

In 2002 and 2004, Oregon candidates were eagerly courting Latino voters through Spanish-language television and radio ads.

What a difference two years makes.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski has given interviews on Spanish-language TV, but not one of his campaign ads is running on those stations. His Republican challenger, Ron Saxton, has also skipped producing a Spanish-language spot.

It's the same story in the bitter 5th Congressional District race between incumbent Darlene Hooley and Republican challenger Mike Erickson.

Though Erickson started running television commercials in August, with Hooley soon following, neither candidate has run a Spanish-language ad. The congressional district includes Woodburn, a community in which Latinos comprise more than half the population.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the lack of Spanish-language ads comes during an election season when candidates are trying to prove how tough they are on illegal immigration.

"There's plenty of negative talk about immigration in some candidates' English-language ads," said Bart Marquez, the coordinator of Voz Hispana, a Woodburn-based nonprofit that promotes civic participation by Latinos. "It could be that they're not running those ads in Spanish because they don't want any backlash from the Latino community," Marquez said.

No one knows the exact number of Latinos registered to vote in Oregon because the state doesn't ask voters for their race or ethnicity. There are 353,433 Hispanics in Oregon, the 2005 U.S. Census says. Of those, 101,419 are of voting age, translating into 4 percent of total eligible voters in the state.

The political analyst Bill Lunch says the lack of Spanish-language ads can also be traced to disappointing turnouts in past elections. "Most candidates don't believe that the voter registration and turnout numbers among Hispanic voters justify the expense of advertising on Spanish-language radio and TV," he said.