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Caution: Roads slippery for Obama

January 29, 2008 |  4:30 pm

Obamalatino6 Driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants remains a major crash-and-burn issue in California. Some fear they could be used to prosecute license holders, while others don't want to give illegal immigrants anything except a kick across the border. As the San Francisco Chronicle points out, even Hillary Clinton backed off the issue after voicing support for it in a debate last year. So why would Barack Obama be fueling the fire by revving up his support for the measure?

Because he really, really needs that jump start in the polls among Latino voters. According to the Field Poll, he's trailing Clinton by 40 points — 19% to her 59%. She's banking on her name and nineties nostalgia. Apparently, it's working.

Some also argue that it has to do with racism against African Americans — an idea Gregory Rodriguez trashed yesterday. Along with Rodriguez and Roberto Lovado at the Huffington Post, San Diego Union-Tribune's Ruben Navarrette Jr. partly blamed this popular misconception on the media, who often "don't know much about Latinos." Some say Sen. Ted Kennedy's endorsement of Obama will bring in more Latino voters; then again, Clinton now has some Kennedys of her own.

In any case, Obama stands to benefit from taking a stronger position on licenses in two ways: He distinguishes himself from Clinton on a policy matter (which has become increasingly dificult as the campaign continues) and he could lure some Latino voters away from the Clinton camp.

But, the SF Chronicle article points out, Democratic pollsters say two thirds of voters oppose the licenses. So is the gamble really worth the risk?

Probably. Because even if he gets negative publicity, it's still publicity — which could boost name recognition among Latinos. And right now, he needs as much of that as he can get. From last week's Times:

A Spanish-language news report from the Nevada caucuses described some voters as unclear even as to the name of Clinton's prime challenger. "They were looking for an Omega, not an Obama," Pachon said. "So his name is just not recognized yet."

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