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Party wants ‘tu voto’

As the race for governor heats up, Democrats buy television ads on Spanish-language stations to capture key Latino votes for Patrick

By Johnny Diaz
Globe Staff / October 9, 2010

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In a new series of TV ads, an unseen Spanish announcer introduces Governor Deval Patrick in a montage of community service scenes with residents. At the end of the spot, Patrick looks at the camera and tells viewers in Spanish, “Cuenta conmigo y yo cuento contigo,’’ which means “Count on me, and I’m counting on you.’’

The Massachusetts Democratic Party bought the ads on both Univision television affiliates WUNI-TV (Channel 27) in Boston and WHTX-TV (Channel 43) in Springfield, as well as Telemundo’s Boston station, WNEU-TV (Channel 60), making this the first time that a Bay State gubernatorial candidate is using Spanish TV to court the Latino vote, community advocates say. The ads, which began airing Thursday during the early evening local and national newscasts and prime-time programs, will run through Election Day, Nov. 2.

The move toward buying Spanish-language TV political ads underscores the importance of the Latino population and vote in Massachusetts during a heated race in which the polls suggest Patrick is running neck-and-neck with Republican candidate Charles D. Baker. Independent Timothy P. Cahill is a distant third, and Jill Stein is running on the Green-Rainbow ticket.

A representative for Baker said he wasn’t planning any Spanish-language ads. Cahill’s and Stein’s campaign representatives did not respond to calls or e-mails seeking comment yesterday.

Patrick’s new Spanish-language ad buys are part of a larger initiative to reach out to minority media, said Sydney Asbury, his campaign manager. Patrick’s campaign is also buying print ads in local Spanish-language newspapers such as El Planeta, El Mundo, and Siglo21, as well as spots on Spanish radio programs. Additionally, it’s developing radio spots and print ads in Creole and Portuguese media for Haitian-American and Brazilian residents.

“We have a full statewide ethnic media plan that is really aggressive, and we are taking it up a step from what we’ve done in the past as an organization,’’ Asbury said.

Asbury declined to comment on how much the Patrick campaign is spending on the Spanish ad buys, except to say that it was a “substantial investment.’’ Depending on the frequency and timeslots, the spots could cost as much as $5,000 a week for each Spanish-language station, estimates one local media buyer.

Community advocates say Patrick’s investment in Spanish television represents a significant breakthrough in how local candidates are conveying their message to Latino constituents. Massachusetts’ Latino population is the 15 largest nationally, with more than 509,000 Latinos in the state, according to Pew Research Center estimates. There are 246,000 eligible Latino voters in Massachusetts, compared with 4.5 million overall.

“This is historic,’’ said Maria Idali Torres, director of the Mauricio Gastón Institute for Latino Community Development and Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts Boston. “The Latino population has been steadily growing to the point that it is almost impossible to ignore the numbers of potential voters.’’

Indeed, the Latino population and number of voters are expected to increase with the results of the 2010 Census, community leaders say. Because it is the fastest-growing ethnic group in the state, the Latino population has also been gaining political clout in cities such as Lawrence, Springfield, and Worcester, which all have large Spanish-speaking populations.

And candidates are beginning to take notice. Last year during his campaign, William Lantigua of Lawrence, the first Latino mayor in the state, also bought airtime on WUNI. And in November, Michael E. Capuano was the first candidate for statewide office to include WUNI in a paid media campaign when he ran in the special Senate election primary.

“Latino voters have been making a significant impact in the elections in Massachusetts,’’ said Anna Lucia Stifano, interim director of Oíste, a Massachusetts group that advocates for the election of Latinos.

Stifano said Patrick is taking a page from President Obama, who invested heavily in Spanish language media in Arizona, Nevada, and California during his presidential campaign. “They are very similar in many ways in their campaign styles and similar in their views in the type of investment . . . what the governor is showing is that he cares about Latinos.’’

Local Spanish-language media executives applauded the governor’s efforts to reach their consumers.

“This is a breakthrough for Spanish TV in this Commonwealth,’’ said Alex von Lichtenberg, general manager of WUNI in Needham. “It legitimizes our stations as an effective vehicle for messaging the Latino voter and consumer.’’

Marcela Garcia, editor of El Planeta newspaper, which is owned by Phoenix Media/Communications Group, said the governor’s campaign bought four week’s worth of ads in her publication, making it the second ad buy since his first gubernatorial campaign.

“For a minority newspaper, it’s always hard to get those ad dollars from politicians,’’ she said. “Patrick did it across the board, which shows he is committed to reach out to the community.’’

Johnny Diaz can be reached at jodiaz@globe.com.