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Speak Spanish? Then GOP Has A TV Show For You As it Sets Sights On Latinos

GOP Sets Sights On Latinos / Infomercials Part Of Big Campaign To Draw Voters Into The Party

by Marc Sandalow
Washington Bureau Chief

May 7, 2002
Copyright © 2002
The San Francisco Chronicle. All Rights Reserved.

Republicans announced a million-dollar plan Monday to produce and broadcast monthly Spanish-language infomercials, blaming poor communication for their weak standing among Latino voters.

"President Bush has shown us that if we simply bring the Republican message to the Hispanic community, their support will follow," said Republican Party chairman Marc Racicot, who described the show as a "news magazine."

The show, entitled "Abriendo Caminos," (opening roads) is scheduled to premiere on Spanish-language TV stations in Fresno and five other markets on May 26. A preview distributed to reporters featured pulsing Latin music, pictures of Bush and anchor Sharon Castillo teasing news events on topics ranging from education to immigration.

"We realize to spread the word of the Bush administration, we must do so in two languages," said Rudy Fernandez, the GOP's director of grassroots development.

The TV project is the latest GOP attempt to win support in the nation's most rapidly growing voting bloc. There are an estimated 23 million Latinos of voting age, a number larger than the population of every state but California. Except for Cuban Americans, who are concentrated in Florida, they vote overwhelmingly Democratic.

Bush trumpeted his popularity among Latinos in Texas and drew more votes than any GOP president before him. Still, he garnered barely 1 in 3 Latino votes in 2000, according to exit polls. Latino allegiance to the Democratic Party has been a major obstacle to Republicans winning office in California.


GOP officials called the TV show part of an ambitious effort to reach out to Hispanic voters, which includes 1,365 grassroots "team leaders," and Spanish language classes for GOP officials. Each show will feature interviews and "news you can use for Latino viewers," Castillo said.

Castillo, a former TV journalist, said news important to Latinos often gets lost in the "shuffle of D.C. politics." She said her first show would feature an interview with Education Secretary Rod Paige and a frank discussion of the high Latino dropout rates.

"This is the kind of information that Latinos can't afford to miss," said Castillo, a native of Puerto Rico who left her job as the Washington bureau chief of the Spanish language network Telemundo to join the Republican National Committee.

Democrats quickly belittled the project as providing only token attention to the Latino community. They said the GOP's problem attracting votes had more to do with their positions on issues than with communication.

"It doesn't matter what market they use, the message is the same. They can't deliver because they don't resonate with Latinos on the issues," said Art Torres, chairman of the California Democratic Party.

Torres said Bush's failure to provide adequate recourses for education and health care will keep Latino voters from voting Republican.

"The only caminos they are going to open are dead ends," Torres said.

However, Republicans say Bush's focus on education standards and security issues make him popular with Latinos, citing surveys that show his job approval ratings have risen among Latinos, as they have with the rest of the population.

The hotel conference room where Racicot showed reporters a preview of the show featured pictures of Bush with Latino schoolchildren, Bush with Latino musicians, Bush with Mexican President Vicente Fox and Bush with pop singer Ricky Martin.


"Make no mistake about it, we intend to compete for the Latino vote," Fernandez said.

The show will be seen on Telemundo and Univision, the nation's two largest Spanish speaking networks. It will not be seen in the Bay Area, nor in several other prominent Hispanic markets including Los Angeles and Chicago. GOP officials said the selected cities -- Fresno, Miami, Denver, Las Vegas, Orlando and Albuquerque -- were chosen to reflect various elements of the Latino population. They said they hoped to expand to other markets if the show is successful.

Pressed by reporters about whether the show can really be called news, the GOP officials acknowledged they did not expect to include interviews with Democrats or present contrary points of view.

"If it's something that's true or fact -- it's news," Castillo said in response to reporters' queries.

"I didn't realize that only those who write for a newspapers or (work on commercial TV) are the only ones engaged in delivering the news," Racicot said.

Speak Spanish? Then GOP Has A TV Show For You

By Maya Bell And Mark Silva | Sentinel Staff Writers

May 8, 2002
Copyright © 2002
Orlando Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.

Aiming for Hispanic viewers.

The Republican National Committee, hoping to sell President Bush's agenda to the nation's fastest-growing minority, will air its own Spanish-language television show in six select markets -- including Orlando and Miami.

Democrats derided the 30-minute GOP-run "newsmagazine" as an infomercial, and Republicans readily concede that one of the first issues covered may involve Democrats balking at Bush's nomination of a Hispanic judge.

While the parties debate the content of a monthly show that will make its debut at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 25, on Orlando's Univision affiliate, WVEN-Channel 26, there is no disputing the motivation of Republicans reaching out to Hispanic voters.

With a Hispanic population of 35 million nationally -- and a record 7 million Hispanics voting in the past presidential election -- the GOP is intent on making deeper inroads into a community Democrats have claimed in most quarters.

In Florida, in particular, where the GOP rules among Cuban-American voters in and around Miami, the GOP is targeting the fast-growing -- and Democratic-leaning -- vote of Puerto Ricans and other Hispanics around Orlando.

"Make no mistake about it: The Republican Party intends to compete for the Hispanic vote," said Rudy Fernandez, director of Grassroots Development for the Republican National Committee.

Target audience.

The party plans to put $1 million behind the nine-month run of Abriendo Caminos, which translates to "Forging New Paths." Besides the two Florida markets, shows will air in Denver, Fresno, Calif., Albuquerque, N.M., and Las Vegas.

Orlando is among the few markets chosen because it is home to one of the fastest-growing Hispanic communities in the country, and the Central Florida region is one of the most pivotal sources of votes in statewide elections.

Acknowledging that most of the region's Hispanics, particularly Puerto Ricans, tend to vote Democratic, Fernandez said: "We're trying to change that."

Mel Martinez, the Cuban-born U.S. secretary of Housing and Urban Development and former Orange County chairman, appears in promotional spots for the new show. He will appear in a summer episode devoted to housing.

Democrats questioned whether a TV show reflects a commitment to Hispanics.

"Rather than address the most pressing needs of the Hispanic community . . ., Republicans have opted to condense their version of Hispanic outreach to a mere 30 minutes a month," said Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Democrat Al Gore cornered nearly two-thirds of the Hispanic vote in the 2000 presidential election. Yet Bush claimed nearly half the Hispanic vote in his home state of Texas and his brother's home of Florida.

The Republican TV effort shows "that Florida still is in play," said Bob Poe, Florida's Democratic Party chairman.

Each of the six media markets was chosen for large Hispanic populations comprised of three major ethnic groups: Hispanics in Fresno and Albuquerque are largely Mexican-American, while those in Orlando are mostly Puerto Rican, and South Florida is home to the largest population of Cubans outside the island.

The GOP also considers the states crucial in upcoming elections: Florida, California and New Mexico have gubernatorial elections, Nevada an important congressional race.

Nationally, Hispanics accounted for 7 percent of the vote in the past presidential election, up from 4 percent in 1996. Because many of the newest Hispanic citizens are foreign-born, Spanish-language TV offers a unique recruiting ground, according to Sergio Bendixen, a Coral Gables-based pollster.

By focusing on the president's concern for public education, jobs and a faith-based approach to social services, party operatives say, they hope to open more Hispanic hearts to the Republican Party. The first show will focus on education.

"Our goal is to promote the compassionate, conservative agenda of President Bush," Fernandez said. "The more Hispanics learn about President Bush and his agenda, the more they like him."

Another topic will be the stalled judicial nomination of Miguel Estrada, a 40-year-old native of Honduras and darling of Washington conservatives. Bush wants to place him on the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, traditional springboard for the Supreme Court.

The show will be anchored by Sharon Castillo, a deputy director of communications for the GOP who spent 12 years with the Spanish-language networks Univision and Telemundo. The show will air on some of their affiliates.

"We'd like to be in every single market in every single community all the way across the United States of America," RNC Chairman Marc Racicot said. "But we're exploring, determining how far we can go, how far we can reach, how well it's accepted."

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