Esta página no está disponible en español.

The Dallas Morning News

Hispanic Vote Starts To Show Some Strength


November 10, 2002
Copyright © 2002 The Dallas Morning News. All rights reserved. 

It makes sense that last week's election would be seen by some as a preliminary test of the power — and potential — of the Hispanic vote.

This was the first major election since the release of the 2000 census data, which gave the country the news that Hispanics are among the fastest-growing ethnic groups in the country, that they are as numerous as African-Americans and that they are on track to account for one in four Americans by 2040.Some Americans responded to those figures with hopeful anticipation; others with dread, apprehension and fear.

For the two major political parties, however, the immediate reaction was to get serious about getting Hispanic votes in the 2002 election. Republicans launched an outreach effort at the grass-roots level and pumped in millions of dollars. The Republican National Committee spent $1 million to air a public-affairs show on Spanish-language television intended to present the GOP as welcoming to Hispanics. Democrats, who typically take the lion's share of the Hispanic vote, responded by attempting to rally the faithful by promoting Hispanic candidates.

Both parties doled out millions more on political ads aimed at Hispanics. According to research by Adam Segal of Johns Hopkins University, nearly $10 million was spent on Spanish-language TV ads this year.

But was all the time, effort and money well spent? It is accepted as a political fact that the surge in Hispanic population doesn't translate automatically into more Hispanic voters at the polls. Hispanics are a young, immigrant-rich population where many aren't old enough to vote and others aren't citizens yet and can't vote.

It still isn't clear whether the parties' Hispanic investments paid off. But there are indications of how Hispanics spiced up this election:

    • In Texas, where oil-and-gas tycoon Tony Sanchez lost his bid to become the state's first Hispanic governor, the William C. Velasquez Institute estimates that the state's 5 million voters on Tuesday included as many as 900,000 Hispanics. That means nearly one in five Texans who went to the polls was Hispanic. As Tejanos flocked to the polls with the hope of electing one of their own, political observers insisted that Mr. Sanchez would reap more than 80 percent of the Hispanic vote. Early indications are that he did.

    • In New Mexico, where Hispanics make up more than 40 percent of the state's population, Latinos apparently played a major role in the election of former Clinton administration Energy Secretary Bill Richardson as the state's first Hispanic governor in 20 years. Mr. Richardson earned about 56 percent of the vote, compared with the 39 percent for his opponent, John Sanchez, who also is Hispanic.

    • Because Hispanics in California and Arizona tend to vote overwhelmingly Democratic, it is a safe bet that the gubernatorial victories of Gray Davis and Janet Napolitano, respectively, were fueled in part by Hispanic support. That is especially likely in California, where, eight years after voters passed the GOP-backed Proposition 187 in an attempt to deny services to illegal immigrants, Hispanics continue to treat Republicans as personae non gratae.

    • That isn't the case everywhere. In fact, in Florida and New York, Hispanics might have helped keep Republicans in the governor's mansions. Florida Gov. Jeb Bush always has enjoyed strong Hispanic support, especially among the state's Cuban-Americans.

But what got into George Pataki? The New York governor made a direct effort to win Hispanic support. In polls leading up to the election, Mr. Pataki's reward was to be the choice of more than 50 percent of Hispanic voters in his matchup with Democrat Carl McCall.

And those are just the high points. In future elections, Americans are likely to hear about Hispanic political activity from small towns in Maine and Vermont to rural communities in Kentucky and Louisiana to midsized cities in Iowa and Alabama.

When Hispanic voters do turn out, it might be due to issues like those that have helped define California politics in recent years — or to the arrival on the scene of Hispanic candidates in major races, as was the case this year in Texas and New Mexico.

After years of being told that if they were going to have a voice in how America conducted its affairs, they were going to have to become citizens, become voters and become engaged in the democratic process, Hispanics seem to have taken that advice to heart.

What will be really interesting to see is where they help take the country from here.

Self-Determination Legislation | Puerto Rico Herald Home
Newsstand | Puerto Rico | U.S. Government | Archives
Search | Mailing List | Contact Us | Feedback