CNN Smacks GOP for 'Ignoring' Majority-Hispanic Iowa Town; But Town Voted Obama 2 to 1 In '08

[UPDATE at bottom of post.]

In a provocative segment on Tuesday's Starting Point, CNN's Soledad O'Brien hit Republican candidates for not campaigning in Iowa's first majority Hispanic town. The liberal CNN host brought on citizens of the town – West Liberty, Iowa  – to discuss why no GOP candidate had yet stumped in the town. "GOP candidates skip majority Hispanic town," the CNN headline blared.

One of the four guests, CNN reported, was a Democratic candidate for the Iowa House of Representatives, and another was a Hispanic immigrant who organized for Obama during the 2008 caucuses. What O'Brien also failed to reveal is that the town, with a small population to begin with, voted heavily for Barack Obama in 2008.

The West Liberty precinct voted more than two to one for Barack Obama in the 2008 general election. In addition, the town's population stands only at 3,736 – according to 2010 U.S. Census data – and the precinct is one of 25 in a county that saw only 1,226 GOP caucus attendees in 2008.

With 99 counties in the state to cover, Republican candidates would naturally flock to areas with higher concentrations of potential caucus voters, and not to towns with heavy Democratic populations.

However, O'Brien saw things differently as she teed up one of her guests, asking if she was annoyed by the lack of GOP campaign appearances.  She further asked guest Jose Zacarias – who organized for Obama in the 2008 caucuses and just weeks ago received his citizenship – what he would do Tuesday night "since the candidates have kind of ignored you".

Zacarias predictably told her that he would caucus for Obama. In a piece on ABCNews.com, he was also quoted as railing against the GOP field. He was quite a guest to be talking about GOP caucuses on CNN.

"When they polled the folks and talked to the folks in West Liberty, you get, what people call, an accommodating attitude toward immigrants in that particular town," O'Brien told a guest about West Liberty.

"I mean, often you say immigration – everybody goes completely nutty," she bizarrely added.

[(10:38 a.m. EST) UPDATE: According to precinct results, 53 Republican voters caucused in West Liberty.]

A transcript of the segment, which aired on January 3 at 8:16 a.m. EST, is as follows:

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: We are down to the wire in Iowa today. Over the last year, we've seen candidates criss-crossing the state, you know, doing the candidate thing, shaking hands, making speeches, kissing babies. In fact, the candidates have visited over 150 towns in this state.

You can see, if we show you the map there, all those dots on this map, that's where they have visited, but there's one town that they haven't visited and that is the town of West Liberty. What's particularly special about West Liberty? Well, it is the first majority Hispanic town in Iowa. More than 50 percent of the Latino population there registered voters. Latino culture, West Liberty, very strong.

The town boasts the state's first dual language program in public schools. Kids can learn half the day in English and then the other half the day in Spanish. So, why have the candidates not stopped in to see the folks in West Liberty? Let's get right to our guest this morning. Jose Zacarias is a new U.S. citizen – congratulations, by the way – running for city council now in West Liberty.

Sara Sedlacek is a candidate for the Iowa State House of Representatives. She's also the former editor of the West Liberty Index Newspaper. Steve Hanson is a superintendent of the West Liberty Community School District, and Evelyn Cardenas is a West Liberty resident who enrolled her kids in that same dual language program.

It's nice to have you all with us this morning. Appreciate it. Evelyn, I'm going to start with you. You saw that map.

EVELYN CARDENAS, West Liberty resident: Yes.

O'BRIEN: With the orange dots, which meant candidates have pretty much been all over the state, but they have not been to West Liberty. Why not and does it annoy you that they've not been there?

CARDENAS: I do feel a little bit frustrated with the fact that candidates haven't been to West Liberty. I think that they don't realize that we actually have a say, that we're actually going to be out in the polls voting. I think they think the population is too small, only five percent Hispanic in the state of Iowa. So we haven't gotten –

O'BRIEN: (Unintelligible) why bother? Is that kind of the take on it?

CARDENAS: Yes.

O'BRIEN: When you look at the maps, though, and if you're not looking about population, the chart (unintelligible), you look at increase, right, trends, it tells a very different story. So, if you look at the population in west -- in Iowa back in 2000, it was 2.8 percent of the population. Then, the number you're talking about now in 2010 that had grown to five percent.

That's almost doubling the population in a relatively small time. Jose, is that part of the reason that you're running for office that there was this Hispanic boom, as little as it might seem, here in Iowa?

JOSE ZACARIAS, West Liberty: Well, definitely. And I think what I intend to do is start a trend, get in representation at the local level, the state level, and at the federal level. We have to get organized. Let's get the ball out and start participating.

O'BRIEN: When they polled the folks and talked to the folks in West Liberty, you get, what people call, an accommodating attitude toward immigrants in that particular town. Sara, you've been a journalist before you started working as a representative. Was West Liberty always like this?

SARA SEDLACEK, Democratic candidate, Iowa House district 88: As far as?

O'BRIEN: As just being having accommodating attitudes.

SEDLACEK: I think so.

O'BRIEN: I mean, often you say immigration – everybody goes completely nutty.

SEDLACEK: Since I have been there, I moved to West Liberty in 2006. The newspaper, just for instance, had very little representation of the Hispanic community. I tried to move to change that. I published the first bilingual special section in the state. And I think people have definitely become more accommodating with the growth of the dual language program.

It's definitely become -- people are more accepting, more tolerant, and, I think it's definitely moved towards that and especially now with the majority/minority, it's definitely --

O'BRIEN: We're going to talk about that school's program because it's become a model, not only in West Liberty, but really, across the country as well. We're going to take a short break. We'll come back with our guests representing West Liberty this morning, the majority/minority town in just a moment. Stay with us.

(Commercial break)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. We're talking about the Latino vote here in the state of Iowa. Now, often people point out that this state is very, very, very white, but the town of West Liberty is majority Hispanic. Yet none of the GOP candidates have even campaigned there.

So, let's bring back our guest this morning. Jose Zacarias is anew U.S. citizen. He's running for city council in West Liberty. Sara Sedlacek is a candidate for the Iowa state House of Representatives and former editor of the West Liberty Index Newspaper. Steve Hanson is a superintendent of the West Liberty community school district, and Evelyn Cardenas is a West Liberty resident.

(...)

O'BRIEN: So, what will you be doing this evening since the candidates have kind of ignored you? Do you go and caucus? What will you do?

ZACARIAS: I'm going to caucus for President Obama, and I intend to be part of his campaign in Eastern Iowa. I'm going to go behind Sara Sedlacek for the local legislature. And I think this is the beginning of our organizing effort in Eastern Iowa to get the Hispanic vote out.

O'BRIEN: Do you see a change in, you know, four years from now, in another four years from now, Steve, do you see that the candidates will be not only visiting West Liberty but, you know, paying more attention to the Latino vote in this state?

STEVE HANSON, West Liberty, IA school superintendent: Well, I think so, because I think more of the candidates will be Latino in four years, in eight years from now. The kind – the students that a school district such as the West Liberty District is producing are going on to university and becoming leaders, and they want to come back home, and they want to take responsibility.

O'BRIEN: I appreciate the conversation this morning, Jose and Sara and Steve and Evelyn, thanks for coming in to talk to us. Grab some coffee. Stick around and watch the rest of our show.

HANSON: All right.

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014