I'll admit: Last week when the Obama 2012 re-election campaign announced its new political director, I thought: "Who?"
But even if the president's pick, Katherine Archuleta, doesn't yet have national name recognition, she's certainly a strong political operative:
1. She's the chief of staff to Secretary Hilda Solis in the U.S. Department of Labor.
2. She previously worked for two mayors of Denver.
3. She is the founder of the Latina Initiative, a Colorado organization focused on getting more Hispanic voters involved in politics.
4. She is the first Latina to serve as the political director of a major presidential campaign.
Between her experience with labor and employment issues, understanding of Latino voters and sway in the battleground state of Colorado, she hits multiple strategic spots that will be crucial to Obama's re-election. But I expect that she'll focus much of her credentials, connections and credibility on that "Latino voters" part.
"It sends the message that Obama is going to take the Latino vote seriously in this election from the very start," said C. Nicole Mason, executive director of the Women of Color Policy Network at New York University's Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. Mason told The Root that, without having delivered on the 2008 campaign promise of passing immigration reform, Obama could find it a tough road.
On the other hand, there are reasons to be optimistic.
"A huge chunk of the voters who carried Obama to victory in 2008 — African Americans and independent voters — stayed home in the 2010 midterm elections. Latinos did not," said Mason, recalling the razor-thin margin in the Arizona race as an example. Although Harry Reid was fighting for his political life, he won against the not-so-immigration-friendly Sharron Angle, in no small part to a determined Latino turnout. Their numbers similarly carried races in California, Florida, Nevada and Texas.
With the Tea Party bloc already pumped about hitting the polls, many independent voters having lost faith in him and African American voters perhaps not coming out in the same record numbers as 2008 (not to mention the knowledge that most black voters who will show up aren't going to vote for the Republican), Obama is likely counting on Latinos to carry him to victory next year.
"There's still so much untapped potential in that community in terms of voter turnout because they haven't even been voting in numbers proportionate to their population," said Mason. "We've only begun to see the power of the Latino vote, and they know that. So Katherine Archuleta is a smart decision."
Cynthia Gordy is The Root's Washington reporter.