Esta página no está disponible en español.
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Bush, McBride Court Minorities: Hispanics, Blacks Loom Large
By Mark Silva and Bob Mahlburg | Sentinel Staff Writers
October 7, 2002
Gov. Jeb Bush and rival Bill McBride are crossing political lines, with Bush courting black voters who vote overwhelmingly Democratic and McBride wooing Hispanics who largely back the Republican governor.
The crossover campaigns of the two candidates locked in a close contest for governor underscore how crucial every vote is among ethnic minorities, who together will account for at least one-fifth of Florida's electorate Nov. 5.
"I have lived my life embracing diversity every step of the way," Bush said Saturday, addressing about 500 black supporters who traveled from throughout the state to fill an Orlando resort hotel's ballroom and hear a litany of Bush administration achievements.
"You've got so many people here trying to live the American dream," McBride said Saturday, joined by about 50 supporters at the opening of a Kissimmee campaign office that will serve as headquarters for his Hispanic voter outreach.
Their pointed appeals to each other's likely supporters also demonstrate something important to independent voters who swear allegiance to neither party.
Particularly in Central Florida, home to swing voters who could decide the race, the candidates are attempting to bolster their credentials as moderate politicians who are willing to take everyone's interests to heart.
"It is comforting to independent and moderate voters who don't want extremists in office," political scientist Dario Moreno said of the appeal.
"By going on the offensive and going into your enemy's stronghold and campaigning there, you are saying to the other side, 'I am not conceding one vote to you,' " said Moreno, director of Florida International University's Metropolitan Center. "And, by reaching into communities where you are not favored, it's comforting to other voters as well."
Democrats traditionally, and McBride this year, are clear favorites among most blacks, who will cast at least 10 percent of the vote on Election Day.
McBride was favored among 89 percent of likely black voters surveyed late last month by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research.
McBride's own campaign survey last week -- portraying Bush with a mere 3-percentage-point lead overall -- supports the Democrat's apparent strength among blacks.
Hispanic allegiance varies
Among Hispanic voters, who also hold more than 10 percent of the vote, political allegiances run the gamut.
They range from heavily Republican-voting Cuban-Americans around Miami -- a base for both Gov. Bush and brother President Bush -- to the Puerto Ricans, Dominicans and Central American immigrants making Central Florida competitive for Democrats and Republicans alike.
Bush, who speaks Spanish and has campaigned with Spanish-language television ads, ran a survey of Central Florida's Hispanic voters showing him favored heavily over Democratic rivals.
Mason-Dixon's recent survey found Hispanics statewide supporting Bush over McBride 63 percent to 27 percent.
As he will again this morning, Bush has campaigned in the Christian churches of Orlando's Hispanic community.
Bush has aired TV ads waving the flags of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Nicaragua as he spoke in Spanish: "We all want a better life. Together, we are making it happen in this place we call home. Florida, our home."
Enter McBride, a Tampa- area attorney unknown among voters statewide before his surprise upset of former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno in the Democratic primary.
McBride "has barely visited our community; he is almost never on our radio shows or our television news," said Anna Diaz, a school principal and member of the Florida Association of Hispanic Administrators.
Jim Carlson Otero, McBride's director of Hispanic outreach, said the new Osceola office will serve as McBride's Hispanic campaign headquarters: "We are doing it because that's what the community wanted."
McBride says Hispanics have suffered from "insensitive attitudes in many respects. They are not being given the opportunity they need to have the kind of life that all of us have been blessed to have."
McBride's message of improving public education and promoting a "living wage" for workers resonates with Judith Rojas, 55, a disabled mother of three in Kissimmee who left Puerto Rico 13 years ago.
"I have lots of friends that have two or three jobs to support their families because they have low pay," Rojas said.
Politicians in parade today
McBride's wife, Alex Sink, attended a gala hotel reception on the eve of today's Puerto Rican parade in downtown Orlando. McBride running mate Tom Rossin plans to join the parade.
Not to be outdone, Bush and Mexican-born wife Columba plan to march in the parade, too.
McBride has worked -- albeit gingerly -- at making a name for himself among Hispanic voters in South and Central Florida.
McBride, for instance, has refused to state his opinion of Reno's forcing young Elian Gonzalez to return to Cuba when she was attorney general, an episode that doomed her among Cuban-Americans.
"There are a lot of Hispanics who are not Cuban, and I think he can make some inroads there," said Brad Coker, Mason-Dixon's managing director.
In Central Florida, pollsters say, more traditional concerns for family life and quality of public education are at the forefront for Hispanic voters.
"That population is in play," Coker said. "The non-Cuban Hispanics are up for grabs, and to whatever extent either of them can woo them, that community is an advantage."
Although Bush has amassed a loyal following among Hispanic voters, the governor has a long and roller-coaster history among black voters.
After his first failed campaign for governor in 1994, the Miami real estate developer set out to build bridges. He opened a charter school in the predominantly black Liberty City.
Bush hopes to surprise
Bush won election in 1998 with the help of many Democrats, including 14 percent of the black vote -- a coup for a Republican. This year, Bush hopes to surprise Democrats again.
"Doing better than expected will be the key," Bush said Saturday of the black vote. "It's important in a close race."
Since his election, Bush has generated new controversy among black community leaders. His "One Florida" initiative that abolished affirmative action at state universities and in state contracting drew protests culminating with a sit-in of black legislators at the Governor's Office.
The disputed presidential election of 2000 and this year's messy primary have heightened concerns about denied voting rights.
"I don't know that Bush is going to be able to do much in the African-American community," Coker said.
"What the Democrats are counting on is a big turnout among black voters," Moreno said. "By campaigning there and showing that he is at least asking for the black vote, he is trying to lower black voter intensity against him. He may not get their votes, but he doesn't want them to hate him."
Bush is touting his appointments of high-level black aides -- Health Secretary Dr. John O. Agwunobi and Lottery Secretary David Griffin joined the governor at Saturday's assembly -- as well as gains for minorities in public education and in state contracting.
A banner hung above the Rosen Centre Hotel's ballroom Saturday: "Jeb Bush, Power to the People."
Grading the public schools
In Bush's ongoing debate with McBride over grading public schools, Bush is borrowing a line from his brother: "the soft bigotry of low expectations."
"My opponent wants to go back to the old way where we don't have expectations," Bush said. "It took a generation of neglect to get where we are."
McBride says he supports student testing and high standards but opposes Bush's letter-grading schools.
Julia Johnson, a black co-chairman of Bush's campaign, is a member of the state Board of Education who lives in Orlando. Johnson said Bush can win black votes with the facts of his record.
"The key to opening the door will be his ability to demonstrate that his programs are programs that empower people," she said. "His message is like a Malcolm X message, self-determination, 'If I give you the tools, you will achieve.' "
Even McBride faces a challenge among black voters: Rekindling the loyalty that many had for Reno and the Clinton administration, in the hope of turning out the numbers of blacks that made Florida competitive for Al Gore in 2000.
Campaigning in church
Like Reno during the primary, McBride has started spending his Sundays in black churches, several last week in St. Petersburg, several today in Miami.
McBride has lined up black legislators from across the state to endorse his campaign. He has hired Orlando-based James Harris from the Reno campaign for outreach.
"Historically, and to this day, our leaders in the African-American community have been the doctors who brought us into the world, the teachers who educated us, the ministers that gave us the word, and honestly, the morticians that sent us home," Harris said of the church-to-church campaign.
The Bush campaign figures it gains valuable time each day that McBride must devote to black voters, shoring up a base Democrats once took for granted.
But Harris said church time is something that cannot be replicated with the millions of dollars of airtime that is the backbone of both campaigns:
"It's better to get it from someone in the community than from someone who is paid to tell you that on TV."