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Dems See Hispanics As Key To House

2002 Hispanics Districts

Dems See Hispanics As Key To House


April 5, 2002
Copyright © 2002
The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

WASHINGTON - Elections for the House will give both Democrats and Republicans their best chance this fall to demonstrate how effectively they can attract the loyalties of the fast-growing Hispanic vote.

In almost a dozen competitive House districts, Hispanic voters will have a major role to play as either a near majority or a crucial group of swing voters who could help decide the race. The fast-growing group that now rivals blacks as the nation's largest minority will play a role in dozens of other districts as well.

Understanding the shifting demographics, President Bush has led a determined effort by Republicans to make inroads with the Hispanic vote – openly courting Hispanics, working to build close ties with Mexico and supporting immigration legislation that angered some conservative Republicans.

"The courting of the Hispanic vote by the Bush administration is going to have its first test in 2002," said Harry Pachon, president of the nonpartisan Tomas Rivera Policy Institute.

What is not yet known, he says, is whether "all the high-visibility appointments, the symbolic visits to Mexico and the bringing to the forefront the Hispanic issues on immigration ... will play out at the congressional level?"

Democrats also are responding with an aggressive effort to attract Hispanics as they believe these voters may help the party regain control of the House.

Rep. Bob Menendez, D-N.J. said that Hispanics "may well be the anchor" in providing the six seats the Democrats need to win the majority in the House.

"A highly mobilized Hispanic electorate in key congressional races could return control of the house to Democrats," agreed Antonio Gonzalez, president of the William C. Velasquez Institute in San Antonio.

States that gained seats through redistricting in 2000 did so at least partially because of Hispanic population growth – especially in the South and West, said Rep. Nita Lowey of New York, chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Democrats have their eyes on pickups in states like Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and Texas and have almost an assured pickup in southern California, where Linda Sanchez has already won a new district drawn for Democrats.

But voter turnout among Hispanics has been traditionally lower than the national average, especially in areas where the Hispanic population is new to this country. And that turnout could be even lower in midterm elections.

Republicans counter that Democrats are overly optimistic about their Hispanic prospects. They say the GOP has strong candidates in these House districts, an appealing message on the economy, education and values and a president working hard to win over Hispanics.

"We'll do much better with the Hispanic vote this time than last," said Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. "President Bush has made that easier."

Menendez dismissed the GOP efforts to win over Hispanics, saying: "Their words belie their actions."

While Hispanics have a tradition of backing Democrats – especially since Republicans angered them in the mid 1990s on the immigration issue – their party allegiance is far from certain.

Hispanics – particularly Mexican Americans, who are the largest Hispanic group – tilt toward Democrats in percentages in the 60s and 70s in many parts of the country, while the Cuban Americans in Florida lean heavily toward the GOP.

Then-Gov. George W. Bush gained ground among Texas Hispanics in the 1990s and got the support of 35 percent nationally in the presidential election.

"Hispanics still lean Democratic, but there are a lot of folks re-examining the positions of both parties," said Larry Gonzales of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

Whether or not Hispanics drift toward Republicans in 2002, they owe at least some of the increased attention from both parties to the president's effort to make significant inroads with them.

"What's occurred in the past two years is that Democrats have realized that the Latino vote is the hidden leg of their support," said Pachon of the Rivera Institute. "It's like an old girlfriend being courted by a new suitor. That's when you find out how much you love her."

House 2002 Hispanics Districts

By The Associated Press

April 5, 2002
Copyright © 2002
The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

A look at a dozen congressional districts where the Hispanic vote has played or will play a significant role in deciding races in the 2002 House elections.

Arizona 1: New district that sprawls across sparsely populated parts of the state for 58,000 square miles. Hispanics make up about a sixth of the voting-age population. Crowded field of both Democrats and Republicans. Competitive.

Arizona 7: New district in southeast Arizona that has a Hispanic voting-age population of almost half. Both parties have primaries. Competitive, leans Democratic.

California 39: New district in southeastern Los Angeles County is majority Democratic and heavily Hispanic. Linda Sanchez, sister of Rep. Loretta Sanchez, won the primary and probably the seat.

Colorado 7: New district that includes the northern suburbs of Denver. Hispanics make up about a fifth of the voting age population. Competitive.

Florida 8: Republican Rep. Rick Keller is running for re-election in this central Florida district against Democrat Eddie Diaz, a former policeman and veteran who once was Republican. Hispanics make up about a sixth of the voting-age population. Potentially competitive, GOP edge.

Florida 25: New district spreads across Miami Dade County into the Everglades. Republican state Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, brother of Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, is considered the favorite. Democrats hope to field a competitive Hispanic candidate. Advantage GOP.

Kansas 4: Democrat Carlos Nolla is challenging veteran GOP Rep. Todd Tiahrt in this district in south central Kansas that has a Hispanic voting-age population of roughly a sixth of the district. Advantage GOP.

Nevada 1: Democratic incumbent Shelley Berkley narrowly won this Las Vegas-area district with a sizable minority population of voting-age Hispanics. Republican Lynette Boggs McDonald, a Las Vegas city councilwoman, is challenging. Competitive, Democratic edge.

Nevada 3: New district in Las Vegas suburbs has a Hispanic voting-age population that makes up about a sixth of the district. Democrat Dario Herrera, chairman of the Clark County Commission, is running against GOP state Sen. Jon Porter. Herrera highly touted candidate, but has been entangled in business controversy. Democrats say Bush administration decision to store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in the state will help Herrera. Competitive.

New Mexico 1: Republican incumbent Heather Wilson is running for re-election in this Albuquerque-area district. Democratic state Sen. Richard Romero is challenging in this district that has a Hispanic voting-age population of more than four in 10. Competitive, Republican edge.

New Mexico 2: Open district in southern part of state, currently held by retiring Republican Joe Skeen. Both sides have primaries in this district with Hispanic voting-age population of more than four in 10. Competitive.

Texas 23: Incumbent Republican Henry Bonilla faces Democratic challenger Henry Cuellar in this majority Hispanic district in west Texas. Cuellar, a former Democratic lawmaker who served as secretary of state for Republican Gov. Rick Perry. Potentially competitive, leans GOP.

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