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Speaking The Language, And The Issues, Pataki Makes Inroads With Latino Voters…McBride Waits As Bush Blithely Speaks Spanish

Speaking The Language, And The Issues, Pataki Makes Inroads With Latino Voters


October 16, 2002
Copyright © 2002 THE NEW YORK TIMES. All rights reserved. 

It seemed like another routine appearance for Gov. George E. Pataki last month when he showed up at a Manhattan restaurant to give a short speech in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month. But in a few minutes the well-heeled celebrators in the crowd were putting down their sangria glasses, shouting "All right!" and applauding wildly.

"Nuestros barrios son mas fuertes, nuestro estado es mas fuerte," Mr. Pataki said. "Porque tenemos una comunidad Latina muy fuerte." (Our neighborhoods are stronger, our state is stronger, because we have a very strong Latin community.)

He said the words slowly, as if chewing, his accent more Peekskill, N.Y., than San Juan, Puerto Rico. Mr. Pataki acknowledges his Spanish is "muy malo, still" – still very bad. But given the reaction he gets whenever he rolls his r's, this hardly seems to matter.

In his bid for a third term, the governor has been engaged in an aggressive courtship of Latino New Yorkers that has him not only speaking Spanish but also advocating temporary asylum for Colombian immigrants, more trade between the United States and the Dominican Republic and an end to the United States Navy's target practice in the Puerto Rican island of Vieques.

Latino voters say they are loving it. Despite their traditional loyalty to the Democratic Party, many are flirting back.

"The biggest thing was for him to come up here and talk to people and say `I'm your governor,' " said Fernando Mateo, president of the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers and a key Pataki supporter among Dominicans. "No other Republican had ever done that before."

Mr. Pataki is looking better and better to many Latinos, partly because of concrete steps he has taken to appeal to Hispanic constituencies – like the financial aid he helped get for families of livery drivers who are injured or killed while on duty, a major issue for Mr. Mateo's group. Latinos also have given him credit for his handling of the World Trade Center tragedy. And like forlorn lovers ready for an affair, many Latino voters speak of disenchantment, if not outright anger, with their long-time partner, the Democratic Party, which many say has been taking them for granted.

In New York, like elsewhere in the country, a shift within the Hispanic population is creating new opportunities for moderate Republican candidates like Mr. Pataki. Studies show that as the population has grown and become more diverse – expanding beyond the Mexicans in the Southwest and the Puerto Ricans in the East, who have a history with the Democratic Party and its civil rights agenda – Hispanic voters are increasingly harder to categorize.

A survey released this month by the Pew Hispanic Center and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation indicated that while the majority of Latinos still start out as Democrats, they are not necessarily finding that a perfect ideological fit. The survey found that they tend to be more conservative than the average Democrat on social issues like divorce and abortion. At the same time, they also tend be more liberal than the average Republican on matters of taxes and government's role in providing social services.

The ambivalence reflects differences within the population like nationality and whether they were born in or outside the United States, the survey showed. Immigrant Latinos, for instance, tend to be more socially conservative than those born here.

But together they form an electorate that is essentially up for grabs, with significant numbers of voters willing to swing from one party to another.

"At a time when the nation is very sharply and almost evenly divided politically, you have this fast-growing part of the electorate that straddles these differences," said Roberto Suro, director of the center. "It has the potential to change the political equilibrium in big, important states."

The governor's race in New York, where three-quarters of Latino voters are registered Democrats, is a key test of their willingness to show more independence, some political analysts said. For the longest time, they have been noted as part of a black-Latino block that, while not automatic, has come together for many Democratic candidates.

But Latinos are showing a greater interest in acting on their own – it was a reason that Michael R. Bloomberg was able to edge out Mark Green in the mayoral election last year, after Mr. Green was criticized for campaigning unfairly against his Latino opponent in the Democratic primary, Fernando Ferrer, the former Bronx borough president.

And though Latinos have a lower turnout rate than other groups of voters, they are seen as a powerful force if antagonized or inspired – as in the mayor's race. Mr. Bloomberg, a Republican, got 43 percent of the Latino vote.

McBride Waits As Bush Blithely Speaks Spanish

By Mark Silva | Sentinel Political Editor

October 12, 2002
Copyright © 2002 Orlando Sentinel. All rights reserved. 

TAMPA -- A Spanish-language TV newswoman approaches Gov. Jeb Bush as he campaigns in a Cuban bakery. As the aroma of fresh cake frosting fills the air, rapid-fire Spanish rolls off the governor's tongue.

Why isn't Bush's challenger, Democrat Bill McBride, airing any Spanish-language campaign commercials, the newswoman asked.

"I guess he doesn't think the Hispanic vote is important," Bush told Telemundo news with a practiced accent. "What we're doing is going directly to the people."

Score one for the Republican governor in one of Florida's most critical campaign battlegrounds. Not only is Tampa the hometown for attorney McBride, but it boasts one of the biggest communities of Hispanic voters in the state.

Democrats have claimed most of these voters in past elections, but Republicans are courting them zealously as Bush seeks re-election this year.

McBride understands the significance of the Hispanic vote -- it's as much as 15 percent of the electorate on Nov. 5. His allies were waiting at La Teresita, a Cuban restaurant where Bush staged an Hispanic campaign rally.

"We wanted to be here, because we don't see the governor very often in this part of town," activist Gabe Cazares said with tongue planted firmly in cheek.

McBride cannot match Bush's $1 million in Spanish-language TV ads or his ability to converse over groceries and debate the fine points of educational or tax policy in fluent, conversational Spanish.

Speaking hardly a word in English, Bush walked through a market, bakery, barber shop and Cuban eatery on Tampa's Columbus Street on Friday with TV camera crews in tow. Then he flew to a Cuban-American club in West Palm Beach with a Cuban-born campaign companion -- Mel Martinez, the U.S. secretary of Housing and Urban Development and former Orange County chairman.

Martinez, the highest-ranking Cuban-American in President Bush's administration, is campaigning cross-country for Republicans -- St. Louis and Philadelphia last week, Ohio and California next week.

President Bush -- the governor's brother -- will be joining the campaign Thursday for a GOP fund-raiser and appearance in Volusia County. It will be the president's sixth trip to Florida this year.

Until then, the governor has no problem working the street himself.

"Buenos dias," said Bush, greeting shoppers over tables of papaya and avocado. Lifting a massive avocado in one hand, Bush asked the shop owner: "These are huge. Made in Florida, verdad?"

Bush's bilingual tongue serves him well -- not only among Cuban-Americans who have backed the Bushes, but also among Puerto Rican, Dominican and other Hispanics for whom Democrats and Republicans are competing for the vote.

"It's huge. It's a terrific advantage," said Martinez, who came to the United States as a 15-year-old in the "Peter Pan" airlifts of children out of Cuban and settled in Orlando in 1962. "There's a dimension that transcends party. When you can speak the language, that is powerful for people."

The Republican Party of Florida has spent $150,000 a week on Spanish-language TV ads for Bush, according to a Johns Hopkins University study. The GOP has spent more than $1 million this year on the Florida ads in Spanish in Central and South Florida -- $265,000 in the last week and a half.

The investment "demonstrates just how serious the Bush campaign and the state party organization take the Hispanic vote," said Adam Segal, editor of the Johns Hopkins Journal of American Politics.

McBride will be advertising in Spanish-language media, said campaign spokesman Alan Stonecipher, but he plans to spend the money "closer to the election when voters are paying attention."

"Once again, the governor says things that he knows aren't true," Stonecipher said Friday. "To make the assertion that Bill doesn't care about Hispanics is below Bush's dignity."

McBride has plenty of commitment, said Anita de Palma, president of the Tampa Bay Council of the League of United Latin American Citizens.

"That man understands our problems," she said. "He knows everything about us and will address our issues when he goes to Tallahassee."

But a lack of lingual prowess prevents McBride from debating Bush in some quarters. At a noon rally at La Teresita, Bush defended his program of grading public schools according to student performance and said McBride would undo it.

"He wants to go back to the old way, where we have no accountability," the governor said in Spanish. "And the Hispanic children will be hurt by that.

"My opponent talks about education. He offers a lot of vague promises, but all it means is your taxes will go up," Bush said in Tampa. And in West Palm Beach: "His first response to the first problem that comes up? He'll raise your taxes."

McBride proposes a 50-cent per pack increase in cigarette taxes.

"It's more Bush hooey," Stonecipher said. "McBride has proposed to raise one tax and one tax only -- the cigarette tax -- with the revenue invested in small classes, teacher salaries and pre-kindergarten. The broad attack of raising taxes is an old hackneyed tool of Republican politics."

McBride, preparing Friday for his second broadcast with Bush -- an Orlando face-off airing Tuesday on statewide radio -- will strike an environmental theme today, campaigning at a park in Palmetto with members of the Sierra Club, Florida League of Conservation Voters and others. He will tour South Florida churches Sunday.

Bush will take his Spanish-speaking son, George P. Bush, to a tailgate party in Miami today before the University of Miami-Florida State University football game.

"My children are Hispanic," Bush told another TV interviewer in Tampa on Friday. "My wife is Hispanic. I'm immersed in the culture."

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