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Democrats Hispanic Outreach Effort…Counteroffensive?

Democrats Hispanic Outreach Effort

By James E. Garcia
Garcia is editor and publisher of

August 27, 2001
Copyright © 2001 All Rights Reserved.

In early August, Democratic National Committee  Chairman Terry McAuliffe spoke to Arizona supporters about his goals for the party. He promised to provide the party faithful with the money and technical resources needed to win elections. After his speech, McAuliffe sat down with Editor James E. Garcia to discuss the Democrats' outreach effort to Hispanic voters.

Politico: You've announced a 10-year Hispanic outreach effort by the Democratic party. What will it entail?

McAuliffe: Well, we're committing the financial resources, so we can make an aggressive continuous outreach effort to the Hispanic community all over the country. I think what we, as a party, have allowed the Republicans to do -- through their infrastructure -- is to try and distort the view of the Democratic party on so many key issues....I'm a firm believer that if everybody knew the message of the Democratic party, they'd vote for the Democrats. A major piece of that is the Hispanic community -- fastest growing voter population in America today. We, the Democrats, have done very well. We now receive two of every three Hispanic votes. There are 5,000 elected Hispanic leaders in American today. Ninety-two percent of those are Democrats. There's a reason for that. It's because we fight for the issues that matter to the Hispanic community, and to all American families, whether it be jobs, fiscal responsibility, energy, education, health care, social security. So this effort will continue. It'll involve outreach, voter registration, polling, paid media, free media, grassroots organizing....all over the country...We will name a full-time executive director (for Hispanic outreach)....So that at the highest levels of the national party, there will be a Hispanic who will actually run this program for us.

Politico:What about resources? What sort of resources are you  talking about in terms of money, in terms of bodies committed to this effort?

McAuliffe: Well, it's millions of dollars. I don't like to give specific  numbers because I don't want it  telegraphed to the Republicans. But it's many, many millions. It is a very serious program. It is a line item now in the DNC budget -- which will now be there every year. I will let the new executive director come in and do the organizing and the hiring. But we will have people all over the country. Obviously, we'll start out in the key, targeted states where we need to move forward for the key House and Senate races, governors races, and then 2004.

Politico: Is the Democratic Party's Hispanic outreach effort a reaction to the census and the critical mass that's been achieved by the Latino population in the electorate? Or is it simply a reaction to the RNC's efforts?

McAuliffe: I never react to Republicans because they have nothing to react to. All they do is talk. They do photo opts. They have T-ball games (on the White House lawn). That's all nice. But to that Hispanic voter: Do they have a job? Are they educating their children? Are there good teachers?....So it's a reaction to the census numbers. But with the millions of unregistered potential Hispanic voters in America today, and knowing that we get two out of every three, it's just plain common political sense that I should put together a massive organization to educate those Hispanic voters who are already registered. But more importantly, to get the unregistered voters registered. Because for every three (Hispanics) I register we get two of those votes.

I just know that my job is to win elections. I'm very serious about it. I tell the DNC staff everyday, 'Before you answer a phone or write a memo, does it help us win elections? If it doesn't, then don't do it.' I would have done (Hispanic outreach) no matter what. But clearly the biggest, driving force was the census numbers....Anyone in politics would have to know that you'd better (make) a concerted effort to reach out and get your message to the Hispanic community or you won't win elections.

Politico:Are there issues that President Bush has addressed during the six months in office that send a message to Latino voters that they should give the Republican party another look? Are there substantive issues that he has addressed that have you guys a little bit worried?

McAuliffe: He hasn't done anything. He's talked. The only thing he has accomplished in his first six months has been to pass a fiscally irresponsible tax cut. Now, to most of the Hispanic voters out there in America (who) make $900,000 a year, they're going to do just great. They think that George Bush is the greatest things since sliced bread. But for most Hispanic voters, who are like most Americans and make $44,000 or less, this tax cut is horrible for you. It's taken away our surplus. It's cutting funding for education, health care -- all the things that matter. So he hasn't done anything....

And (Bush) has talked about amnesty for 3 million Mexicans over here in the United States. But you've got to remember it was the Democrats who had (an amnesty) bill up last year that the Republicans defeated. That bill was broader than what President Bush is talking about. It included not just folks who have come over from Mexico. It includes all countries -- people who are here working hard, trying to better their lives and pay taxes. They should be treated like all other United States citizens.

Politico: As you said, the Democrats had proposed an amnesty program that was more sweeping. Yet somehow it now seems like it might pass. Will the president get all the credit? Does he have an advantage over you on issues like this?

McAuliffe: That's true. He now has the bully pulpit. I do worry about that because we had it for eight years. I do worry about it also because...they have an infrastructure of technology that they've built up over the last 20 years, which allows them to build up their message....So we have to work harder. I have to build the infrastructure, the message delivery system of our party. But if you look at the results today, people are worried. He may have the bully pulpit, but the problem for George Bush is that he now has the responsibility to get things done for American families -- and he can't do it.

Politico: There's a target that the Republicans talk about for the next presidential election. They say they want to get at least 40 percent of the Hispanic vote. Does the Democratic party have its own mark its trying to reach?

McAuliffe: There were 7 million Hispanic voters in the last presidential election. It's projected in 2004 to go to 11 million. You do the math. (The Republicans) know that when you do the numbers and look at where Democrats get a majority of the vote, they know they can't win the White House again unless they make serious inroads into the Hispanic community. So that's why they're doing what they're doing? But it's photo opts, T-ball games, going out to Catholic churches and having (Bush's) picture taken with a bishop.

McAuliffe's Hispanic Outreach Counteroffensive

By James E. Garcia

August 27, 2001
Copyright © 2001 All Rights Reserved.

Even if some Democrats are hard-pressed to admit it, their party is on the run and the GOP is coming on fast -- at least as far as Latino voters are concerned. 

In this era of perennial campaigns, Democrats and Republicans are already looking toward the 2004 presidential election and beyond. Given the closeness of last year's presidential election, both parties are looking hard at Hispanics as a critical swing vote. 

Certainly, the Democrats have a big head start. As the party's new Chairman Terry McAuliffe recently told an audience of Democratic supporters in Phoenix, two out of three Hispanics voted for Al Gore last year and 90 percent of Latinos in public office today are Democrats. 

But the GOP's big push to attract Hispanic voters and population trends in the Hispanic community have the Democrats paying more attention to this key constituency bloc. 

In an attempt to fend off the Republicans, McAuliffe has announced a 10-year Hispanic outreach effort. It's designed, party loyalists say, to remind Latinos that when push comes to shove, it's the Democrats who side with them on issues such as health care, education and social security. 

As if to prove that they're not taking Latino support for granted -- a growing charge among Hispanic voters -- McAuliffe has peppered his top core of advisors with Latinos. 

For instance, McAuliffe hired a Latina, Maria Cardona, to serve as his chief of communications. Ida B. Castro, who headed the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission under Clinton, is now running the Democrat's women's outreach program. A major focus of the party's expensive push to win more seats in Congress in 2002 will target Latino voters in Texas, California, Florida and elsewhere. And McAuliffe, though he declined to divulge an exact figure, announced that he plans to spend millions of dollars on Hispanic outreach efforts in the coming years. 

The Democrats have good reason to be nervous. President Bush won about one-third of the nation's Latino vote last year -- a big gain over previous elections -- and recent polls show his popularity growing among Hispanics. 

This week, Bush's campaign-style forays into Colorado and Florida feature events specially tailored to appeal to Latino voters. GOP leaders are even making a push for Hispanic voters in California, which Gore won handily last year. The Republicans are now training Latinos to run for office in California. 

For now, McAuliffe is right when he says that if Latinos vote on the issues, Democrats will win a majority of their votes. That majority, however, will grow slim, and might even disappear, if Republicans do two things: soften their stances on key issues while convincing Latinos that the so called new GOP is more inclusive. 

Earlier this week, for instance, Bush, somewhat uncharacteristically, defended the constitutionality of a federal affirmative action program. And Bush's compassionate gestures toward immigrants have won guarded praise from many Latino leaders. 

The question for McAuliffe is whether the Democrats took too long to launch their Hispanic outreach counteroffensive against the Republicans. If so, it might not be long before Bush y los Republicanos are breathing down his neck. 

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