By Rose Arce, CNN
(CNN) - In the battle for the soccer mamis, let’s just say Tuesday was a gooooooooooal for the Obama campaign. But perhaps not so great for the mamis.
The president’s campaign offered up Michelle Obama to talk to CNN contributor Maria Cardona. It was live streamed on Mamiverse, a blog for Latinas and their families. The blog is where Cardona and I, along with others, contribute various perspectives.
Since Latinos represent 55% of overall U.S. population growth, and their children account for nearly a quarter of new births, the Latina mama is the go-to gal for influencing Latino voters. Just ask anyone in Latino marketing or politics. Or just turn on Spanish language television, where mamis are targeted relentlessly because of their influence on everything from family decisions on health care to the type of breakfast cereal to purchase.
“Latinas are the ones that drive their home economy, what gets purchased, what schools their kids go to, what churches to go to,” said Elaine de Valle, who edits a portal for English-dominant Hispanics called Voxxi. “While it may be portrayed on film as a patriarchal society, it’s a matriarchal society ... they’re looked at because of the influence they have with their family, friends and neighbors. Women share more than men, they talk about it … they share with their families.”
And Latinas vote in higher numbers than Latinos.
Just one catch here.
The Obama campaign isn’t selling breakfast cereal. They’re peddling a presidential candidate to a population facing 11% unemployment and a record number of deportations. This is a community that reports they are most likely–more than 40% –to be uninsured.
There are some hard questions to ask about how the president’s policies are going to improve the lives of mamis and their families.
But in the Mamiverse discussion Tuesday, what the mamis got was President Barack Obama’s wife being interviewed by a Democratic consultant, accompanied by a Latina from the group Latinos for Obama, a cookbook writer and two moms who shared agreement on topics such as obesity, health care and eating together as a family.
“Doing this can get you picked up by a lot of different places as an interview,” said professor Matt Barreto, who studies race and ethnicity as a political scientist at University of Washington. “But it’s really an outreach opportunity.”
It was an outreach opportunity that did not include Ann Romney and came on a day when presidential candidate Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama skipped an opportunity to speak to a broad audience of Latinos at the National Council of La Raza conference. It was the first time no presidential candidate has attended.
“It shocked me that they wouldn’t address this crowd,” said de Valle, the editor.
Right after the “chat”, Michelle Obama was scheduled to speak at Barbara Goleman Senior High School in Miami Lakes, Florida, over the objections of local Republicans. The school is 93% Hispanic and, though school is not in session, that’s a lot of potential Latino mamis in a swing state. This is clearly an opportunity for the campaigns to speak to the mami demo but not necessarily an opportunity for the mamis to speak back.
“It’s a market they pretty much already have so I don’t know why they’re speaking to the choir so much,” said Elaine de Valle. “… The community has a lot of overlap to other communities they want, like the middle class.”
CNN contributor Ana Navarro, a GOP political strategist who worked for the 2008 John McCain campaign, said these kind of outreach efforts are smart because they elicit friendly questions, not tough policy questions.
“Michelle Obama is a wife who is supportive of her husband. It wouldn’t be fair to ask her or Ann Romney about policy,” she said.
Navarro thinks both campaigns would be smart to give Latinos more opportunities to get to know them as people. Either wife, she said, could tell them what these men are like, particularly Romney, who “Latinos just don’t feel like they know him.”
De Valle believes that Latinas are being fed comfort food, rather than information.
“They’re speaking to the converted for sure,” she said. “Obama needs voters to get fired up, that’s what today was about in Miami and the Mamiverse thing.”
De Valle attended the Miami school event where the first lady spoke Tuesday.
In a recent poll of Hispanics in five battleground states, respondents said immigration was the most important issue facing the Latino community that Congress and the president should address. The economy and jobs followed as issues.
That same poll showed 67% of those voters approving of the job Obama is doing. In previous elections, Republicans, dating back to President George H.W. Bush, have said that getting more than 30% of the national Latino vote could be enough for them to take battleground states.
President George W. Bush drew an estimated 40% of the vote in the 2004 presidential election. In the 2008 election, Obama’s largest margins of victory among Latinos were in swing states such as Florida and New Jersey, according to Pew Hispanic Center. This election year, the most recent Florida poll by Latino Decisions has Obama leading Romney 53% to 37%.
In 2008, Obama carried 67% of the Latino vote nationally.
To win that vote, Navarro said: “I think both candidates need to give some specifics on how they’re going to improve the unemployment rate. I want more specifics on how they’re going to address foreclosures. What are they really going to do about immigration? Romney needs to say what he is really doing, and Obama needs to explain why people should believe he’s going to do anything when he didn’t before.”
But Navarro points out that both candidates will soon have to answer some questions of their own. Obama has given interviews to major Spanish-language reporters, and she believes Romney will have to eventually as well.
“I don’t think in 2012 you can go through a presidential campaign without sitting down with a major Hispanic journalist,” she said.
So, in our suenos, what sorts of tough questions might a mami ask of the two guys that want to rule their country?
Here’s one for the president that might better reflect what studies say the mamis want to know:
President Obama, you have deported more people on immigration violations than any president in U.S. history. You say your administration targets illegal immigrants who were also accused of other criminal behavior, but Syracuse University's TRAC project, which crunches immigration data obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, has consistently found that deportations of criminals constitute a small portion of deportations. Data shows that most people are deported solely for having entered the country without a visa. Who do you want to stay and who do you want to go?
That would naturally lead to asking Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, what he means when he says he favors increasing legal immigration for talented foreigners:
Gov. Romney, are you only talking about foreigners who pay steep tuitions at U.S. colleges and want to stay? Or does that include the particularly terrific caregiver or the construction or farm worker in an area short on labor? If it’s the former, will white collar Americans be happy with their country giving visas to foreigners who will compete with them for jobs requiring high tech or higher education such as doctors, tech people and businessmen?
Rene Alegria started the Mamiverse blog targeting mamis after doing marketing research that showed Latina moms have enormous influence over how their community makes decisions on things such as buying and core beliefs. That demographic, he says, often are family and kid focused and make big dinner-table pronouncements about political issues.
So events such as the Mamiverse chat seem to offer an opportunity to give this demographic some real information.
But instead, Michelle Obama assured the semicircle of sympathetic Mamiverse Latinas that “Barack” eats dinner with his own family and has never missed a parent-teacher conference, that “there's only one person out there right now that has a vision that we share and is going to be fighting for us every day.”
It isn't hard to guess who she might be talking about.