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National Post

Bush Going Out Of Way To Attract Hispanics To GOP: Republican Pollster Says Group Essential To Party's Future

By Alexander Rose

February 9, 2001
Copyright © 2001 National Post. All Rights Reserved.

WASHINGTON - The only way President George W. Bush could have been more clear about his message in the Rose Garden yesterday was to have spoken in Spanish.

He was surrounded by 80 Latino entrepreneurs. He said the word Latino three times in his short speech.

And as he signed his tax cut proposal, he was flanked by Maria Taxman, President of Chesterfield Trading; Hector Barreto Jr., President of Barreto Insurance and Financial Services; and Anna Cablik, President of ANATEK Inc. -- Latinos all.

"They really represent in a lot of ways the American dream," a White House aide said. "They are a great example of the individuals he wants to help with tax relief."

Mr. Bush has often lauded Latinos as being among the United States' most productive and law-abiding citizens, despite being relatively poor as a whole. This is not to say they are without aspirations. Many live in the Sunbelt, the south and the west, which are witnessing a population (and economic) boom as millions of people leave the dirty, crowded east and make the great trek southward.

In California, Latinos make up 13.4% of the population; in Texas, 19.6%; in Arizona, 13.6%; and in New Mexico, a whopping 34.9%. Texas and California are megastates, but during the campaign the Bush and Gore teams also honed in on isolated Hispanic pockets living in close-run states such as Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Missouri. Since 1996, the Hispanic vote has jumped by 17%, while non-Hispanics have increased by only 1%.

Alarmingly for Mr. Bush, however, like many immigrant communities, Hispanics heavily vote Democratic. During the campaign, one pollster found that Hispanics favoured Mr. Gore over Mr. Bush 61% to 25% nationally. In mid-October, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, Hispanics were going Gore 41%, compared to Bush's 10%. However, a relatively large number (25%) defined themselves as strictly independent.

It is crucial for Mr. Bush, therefore, to attract Hispanics, and he goes out of his way to do so. Lance Tarrance, a GOP pollster who specializes in Latino issues, said: "The Republican Party has got to include Hispanics in our coalition -- or we won't make it in the future. If George Bush is elected, you're going to see a fuel-injected effort from the White House."

In the election itself, Mr. Bush did well in Texas. When he was re-elected in Texas in 1998, it is estimated he won between 37% and 47% of his state's Hispanic vote.

By creating a Latino bourgeoisie through tax incentives, Mr. Bush wants to ensure that Hispanics, who are concentrated in several Republican states, are magnetized toward the GOP as a bloc.

By reforming the tax structure to favour small businesses, Mr. Bush wants to shift Latinos -- who, like many immigrant communities, own their own stores and slowly work their way up -- into the middle class. If he can prevent Hispanics from staying in typical immigrant jobs, they will help fuel the American expansion. By becoming less reliant on government assistance programs, it is hoped Hispanics will become addicted to tax cuts, much like other once staunchly Democratic immigrant constituencies as the Irish and the Italians.

There are several GOP strategists who believe the Republicans will benefit in the long run from wooing Hispanics. They think Republicans and Hispanics are a natural fit. Says Rep. Heather Wilson of Albuquerque, N.M.: "Hispanics are Democratic by registration, but they also tend to be Catholic, culturally conservative and family-oriented."

If Latinos manage to bring their lingering fiscal liberalism in line with their more socially conservative views, it is not inconceivable that one day hence, 20 years or so from now, the Republican Party could be a Latino-led institution.

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