The primary in South Carolina has been all a register of how African Americans feel about the two leading contenders. But primary victories in this season can be short-lived. As cruelly as a new mountain range suddenly looms up, even as a climber pants to the top of the first ridge, so do states holding nearly half the American population loom over the battling Democratic contenders. On Feb. 5, Democrats not just in California &

scheduled in less than a decade to have a Hispanic majority &

but in other states with significant Hispanic populations like New York, Florida, Illinois, Arizona and Colorado, will be going to the polls in their party's primaries. The way these Hispanic voters tilt between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama will be decisive in the race for the nomination.




A sinister omen for Obama came in the contest in Nevada, in the fact that Clinton eked out a narrow but decisive victory because she won the Hispanic vote decisively. According to the entrance poll of Nevada caucus-goers, 64 percent of Hispanic voters favored Clinton to just 25 percent for Obama, while 83 percent of African Americans backed Obama to only 16 percent for Clinton. There were confrontations, confirming the conventional political wisdom that browns &

both native Chicanos and immigrant Hispanics &

do not feel a commonality of interest with blacks, and that often there is no love lost between them.




After a study in depth of Hispanic communities in a number of American cities, Paula McClain, a political scientist at Duke University in North Carolina, concluded that "Latinos tend to identify more with whites than with blacks and that "what you may see is that Latino voters, despite conservatism on issues of gender, will feel more comfortable voting for Hillary Clinton than Barack Obama. They can quickly get over the gender issue with Clinton &

because she is white." McClain added that Obama is running "a very good campaign" on a platform of multiracial and multicultural coalition-building, but in the end, "there is a question about how many Latinos will go into a voting booth and pull a lever for a black. There is this notion in the mainstream media that all minority groups have a lot in common. Actually, in some communities, the groups are more likely to engage in competitive, as opposed to collaborative, behavior."




From the first few contests, it's clear that Obama is picking up his support from the better-off and the young, who like his moderate style. But he also has to capture the support of millions of blue-collar working people &

many of them Hispanic &

and thus far he has not registered any decisive impact. Clinton, by contrast, has successfully recruited labor icon Dolores Huerta, cofounder of the United Farmworkers, and also Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaigorosa, a national chair for the Hillary Clinton campaign.




There is a way Obama could make an impact on these millions of Hispanics There is a way Obama could make an impact on these millions of Hispanics he has thus far failed to set on fire, but it would ratchet up the animus between the Obama and Clinton campaigns to a new and acrid intensity. Across the next crucial days, he could declare bluntly that while Clinton may profess profound sympathy for the concerns of Hispanics, the substantive record of the Bill Clinton presidency was terrible. The Free Trade bill ratified by Bill Clinton in 1994 sent hundreds of thousands of Mexicans north across the border out of Mexico's reeling economy, there to be met by criminal sanctions &

aimed at the poor, generally &

harsher on Clinton's watch than on Bush's, with the latter offering more progressive proposals. It was Sen. Obama, not Sen. Clinton, who was a co-sponsor of the Immigrant Reform Bill, a major issue of 2007 for the Latino population




Obama is learning that to stay in the game with the Clintons, he has to play it rougher. He has very little time to escape from the box into which Hillary and Bill have been trying to trap him, as the black candidate Hispanics should not trust.




Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through . To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at .