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Calderón's Midterm Election Strategy Pays Off -- For Now…Poll Reveals Exceptionally High Percentage Of First-Time Puerto Rican Voters; Voter Registration Campaign Seen as Driving Factor

Calderón's Midterm Election Strategy Pays Off -- For Now

By Iván Román | San Juan Bureau

November 10, 2002
Copyright © 2002 Orlando Sentinel. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Just as he did on the campaign trail, New York Gov. George Pataki threw some Spanish into his acceptance speech in midtown Manhattan on Tuesday night.

"A mis amigos, gracias por su apoyo," Pataki said, flanked by a crowd representing the broad coalition he put together to win. "Cuatro años más. Juntos siempre adelante. Juntos."

(To my friends, thanks for your support. Four more years. We will move forward together forever. Together.)

One of those "friends" Pataki addressed was watching from a television far, far away -- Puerto Rico Gov. Sila Calderón.

After pledging to Democrats she would remain neutral in that race to govern the state with the biggest Puerto Rican population, Calderón flew to New York last month to campaign for Pataki. It was clearly payback for his help in getting President Bush's White House to promise -- at least verbally -- to get the Navy out of Vieques by May 2003.

But angering friends and foes alike, she played both sides of the fence in this contentious midterm election and, in that way, hedged her bets. With possible access to the White House at stake, it seems to have paid off.

While campaigning for Democrats such as Senate candidate Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, she actively backed Republican incumbent Pataki on the other side of the Hudson River. And she waited until six days before the election, but finally went public with her endorsement of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, presumably to secure another way to get his big brother's ear.

Analysts will spend weeks looking into what role Puerto Ricans played in those victories in New York and Florida, which has the fastest-growing Puerto Rican population on the U.S. mainland. They'll also try to determine whether the $6 million in public money Calderón spent registering 71,370 Puerto Ricans to vote -- 10,267 in Florida alone -- truly made a difference.

"The connections I made representing Puerto Rico are as much with the Republicans as with the Democrats," Calderón said as millions went to the polls Tuesday. "I have been very careful when establishing those connections in favor of my island."

But the price she paid for these new alliances may turn out to be a bit too high.

In Florida, while island Republicans were pouring money -- some $180,000 -- and time into Bush's campaign, Democratic challenger Bill McBride didn't even ask island politicians to join his, and lackluster efforts to attract Hispanics seemed too little too late. So whether Calderón's implicit backing of Bush intimidated Democrats in her own Popular Democratic Party into relative silence became pretty much a nonissue.

But the Democrats farther north remained far from aloof and took it hard. Calderón's support of Pataki forced Democratic challenger H. Carl McCall, an African-American backed by much of New York City's Puerto Rican political establishment, to scramble and get his own trump card, Puerto Rico's former governor Pedro Rosselló. On a two-day campaign swing last weekend, Rosselló, whom McCall called "the true governor of Puerto Rico," headlined events with the likes of New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and made pitches on local Spanish television.

Influential Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., one of Puerto Rico's strongest defenders on the House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees tax law, thought Calderón's endorsement struck at the heart of the coalition Puerto Ricans and African-Americans have fought hard to forge for decades in New York City.

Rep. José Serrano, D-N.Y., a main force pushing for federal funds for the island's Urban Train system and other projects, went as far as to say that he no longer would take the initiative in helping Puerto Rico in Congress.

"When someone comes here and, due to ignorance or stupidity, doesn't understand that, and hurts that coalition, they are challenging everything I know and everything my parents fought for so many years," Serrano said.

Calderón responded by saying she was not a person who lived in fear. "I know these people well and Rangel's support of Puerto Rico and that most of his constituents are Puerto Rican, and I doubt very much he would turn his back on Puerto Rico," she said.

But resentment from New York City can't help, particularly after Republicans took back control of the Senate on Tuesday night. The voices more sympathetic to Calderón's proposal to offer new federal tax breaks to U.S. manufacturers on the island to stem the loss of jobs had the gavels taken away from them. Most fiscally conservative Republicans have all but kissed that idea goodbye.

"Obviously many of Puerto Rico's problems will become more complicated after Tuesday," said political analyst Noel Colón Martínez. "Getting more funds for Puerto Rico or getting the tax break approved is going to be extremely difficult, if not impossible."

Exit Poll Reveals Exceptionally High Percentage Of First-Time Puerto Rican Voters; Economy And Education Cited As Priority Issues In Mid-Term Elections

November 8, 2002
Copyright © 2002 PR NEWSWIRE. All rights reserved. 

Non-Partisan Voter Registration Campaign Seen as Driving Factor For a Nearly 70% Increased Turnout for First-time Voters

WASHINGTON, Nov. 8 /PRNewswire/ -- The Hispanic electorate's growing political influence was underscored this year by a significant increase in attention from both Democrats and Republicans prior to the 2002 midterm elections; an exit poll released today by the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA) demonstrates that Hispanics and Puerto Ricans will turn out to vote in large numbers when effectively empowered and motivated.

PRFAA's exit poll, conducted at the culmination of the first year of a grass-roots driven and media-supported voter registration and mobilization effort, found that 15% of Puerto Ricans who cast ballots in the November 5 mid-term elections were first-time voters. This change represents a nearly 70% increase from the 9% of Hispanic first-time voters in the 2000 general election as reported by Voter News Services (VNS).

The 775 exit poll respondents consisted of voters in New York City, Chicago, Orlando and Homestead, Florida which constitute a statistically representative sample of the Puerto Rican electorate throughout the United States. Bendixen & Associates, the nationally-recognized Hispanic pollster who administered the poll, estimates that 75,000 Puerto Ricans voted for the first time in the November 5th election.

"Governor Calderon is ecstatic about the increased number of Puerto Rican voters that showed up and voiced their opinions at the polls on Tuesday," said Mari Carmen Aponte, Executive Director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration and leader of the Calderon Administration's national voter registration and mobilization effort which registered over 70,000 new voters between July and November.

The exit polling sample was the largest Hispanic exit poll conducted nationwide this year and confirms the effectiveness of the "Que Nada Nos Detenga!" (Let Nothing Stop Us!) campaign, a non-partisan voter education effort led by Commonwealth of Puerto Rico Governor Sila M. Calderon and implemented through the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA) and partners the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) and the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO).

"The exceptionally high number of first time voters, especially for a mid- term election, leads me to conclude that Governor Calderon's voter registration drive has energized Puerto Rican voters nationwide," says Sergio Bendixen, who administered the poll.

Impact of the Voter Registration and Motivation Campaign

The extensive grass-roots and media education effort launched in July had great impact in registering the Puerto Rican community to vote and turning them out to the polls on election day. Eighty-seven percent of the Puerto Rican voters interviewed reported having watched a television commercial or having listened to a radio commercial or having seen an outdoor billboard of the Que Nada Nos Detenga voter registration and voter participation campaign sponsored by PRFAA. Eighty percent of Puerto Rican voters also indicated that they had seen an ad in a local newspaper or had received a direct mail letter, a telephone call or a home visit from the program's organizers.

Issues of Importance to Puerto Rican Voters

At a time when the Hispanic vote continues to grow in influence, Puerto Rican voters cited jobs and the economy as their number one issue in the mid- term election. 46% said it was the most important issue, while 22% chose the quality of public education. Only 11% of respondents viewed the war on terrorism as a major concern in contrast to the general electorate who ranked the issue almost equal with concerns about the economy.

The other issues on the Puerto Rican agenda were access to health care (11%), fighting crime (5%) and protecting the environment (2%).

Puerto Ricans revealed a nearly unanimous consensus on the importance of participating in the political process. 96% of respondents said it was very important to "participate in the political process and in the election," and 87% reported that issues that "impact and affect Puerto Rico" are very important to them.

"The Puerto Rican community let their voices be heard -- loud and clear! And with voter registration efforts picking up again in a few months, our voice will only continue to grow," Aponte enthused.

"This program has always been about unity, pride and empowerment for both Puerto Ricans on the mainland and on the Island," Aponte added as 54% of Puerto Rican voters indicated that one of the major reasons they participated in the November 5th election was that "the Puerto Rican community will benefit."

In addition, 33% reported that "my vote helps Puerto Rico" as a motivating factor for their participation in the electoral process. In all, 87% of Puerto Rican voters drew a link between their vote and the assistance that vote could provide.

About the Poll

The analysis and results in this executive summary are based on 775 interviews with Puerto Rican voters who participated in the November 5th election. Respondents were interviewed in English and Spanish in 15 precincts in New York City (5), Chicago (5), Orlando (4) and Homestead, Florida (1). The sample was designed to be representative of the Puerto Rican electorate in the United States. The exit poll was conducted by Bendixen & Associates, a Miami public opinion research company, as part of its contract with the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA). The margin of error for the full sample of the study is three percentage points.

About the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA)

PRFAA, which serves as the mainland offices of the Governor of Puerto Rico, operates nine regional community outreach offices in Boston, Chicago, Hartford, New York City, Newark, Philadelphia, Miami and Orlando and is headquartered in Washington, D.C. The agency also recently opened four additional satellite offices in Los Angeles, Houston, Cleveland, and Springfield, Mass. to expand community outreach and empowerment activities even further.

For more information, please visit .

High-resolution digital photos available by emailing or calling 202-955-8451.

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