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Bush Could Bring Latino Voters To GOP Congress Candidates
By Johnny Diaz
May 29, 2002
President Bushs support of Republican congressional candidates could win over Latino voters in November, according to a poll released Tuesday by the New Democrat Network (NDN).
The NDN, comprised of members of both houses of Congress, actively selects and supports candidates for office.
Sergio Bendixen, a Miami-based pollster, found that out of the 800 Hispanic voters polled, 38 percent said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate endorsed by Bush. And the numbers went up with voters who predominantly speak Spanish. All told, 45 percent said they would likely back a congressional candidate supported by the president.
"Bush has succeeded in converting his public appeal into what I would call substantial political support" among Latinos, Bendixen said Tuesday at an NDN presentation. But, he and other NDN officials were quick to say that Democrats hold a 34-point lead with Latinos over Republicans, according to the poll.
This latest poll is yet another example of the enormous stock both political parties are putting in the Latino vote. The poll, which was first reported in Tuesdays Wall Street Journal, was conducted during the past three weeks.
The national Hispanic population increased 58 percent during the 1990s to 35.3 million, according to the 2000 Census report. With Latinos focused in electoral strongholds like Texas and California a combined 86 congressional seats as well as other big states like New York and Florida, the political parties know where to focus their money and energy.
"We are going to be very aggressive," said Sharon Castillo, a Republican National Committee (RNC) spokeswoman. "Latinos are taking a new look at the [GOP]."
The RNC has developed Hispanic candidate training programs, as well as classes for Hispanics interested in working on campaigns and learning about the political process.
"I think [the GOP] has a good shot," said James Garcia, editor of AmericanLatino.net, a website devoted to Latino news and trends. Garcia, who considers his views left of the political center, cited Bushs charisma with the Latino community, the increasing number of Hispanic chambers of commerce and the large financial investment by the GOP as reasons for Republican optimism.
The GOP is certain that with viable candidates and a clear pro-Latino message, it can draw more Latino voters and move away from the anti-Latino image it has suffered because of anti-immigration conservatives like former California Gov. Pete Wilson (R) and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.).
Neither party can claim Latino support as a given, Castillo said. "I think Latinos are issue-driven."
Garcia, who noted the complexity of Hispanic ideology, supported Castillos claim. "With the right candidates, [Latinos] can cross lines," he said.
But the Democrats should not be underestimated, he said.
The Democratic National Committee (DNC) last year launched a multimillion, multiyear program for Latino voter retention and outreach. In fact, it was one of DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffes top priorities after taking the reins of the Democratic Party, according to DNC spokeswoman Maria Cardona.
"Because he knew the reality of the fact that we needed to earn the Latino vote each and every day. It can not be taken for granted," Cardona said.
The DNCs efforts are widespread: McAuliffe gives interviews to Spanish-language papers like El Diario and La Prensa; the DNC advertises on Univision, one of two major Spanish-language television networks in the United States; and Cardona herself runs spots on Spanish-language radio stations.
So in the end, the party with the best public relations campaign could come out on top, at least in the short-term, Garcia said.
"Politics is often about the image you portray," he added.