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Richardson To Chair Democratic Convention… Hispanic Voters Hold Key to 2004, Gov. Says

No Tea, but Democrats Get the Party Started

July 29, 2003
Copyright © 2003 The Washington Post. All rights reserved.

BOSTON, July 28 - Gathered on the spot where the American Revolution was sparked, Democratic Party leaders today launched a bid to defeat their very own King George. Exactly one year before they must name a candidate to challenge President Bush, organizers in Boston kicked off the countdown to the Democratic National Convention at a raucous ceremony in the heart of the host city.

Speaking to a crowd of a few hundred in Old South Meeting House, the white-steepled landmark where angry colonists hatched a plot to dump tea into Boston Harbor, Democratic National Committee Chairman Terence R. McAuliffe declared, "Our campaign to take back the White House officially begins today."

McAuliffe introduced the team that will oversee the event. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson was named convention chairman. Alice Huffman, head of the California NAACP, will chair the convention committee, and Rod O'Connor, a one-time aide to former vice president Al Gore, will be chief executive.

Flanked by party luminaries -- including Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) -- organizers unveiled the convention's slogan, "Nothing Conventional About It," as speaker after speaker stressed that the party's commitment to diversity would be the key to defeating Bush.

Richardson, the nation's only Hispanic governor, greeted the crowd in Spanish. He said his selection was "a recognition that minorities, and particularly Hispanic Americans, are important and that their vote will stay very strong with the Democratic Party."

Once considered a long shot to host the convention due to its dearth of hotels and cramped downtown, Boston also has been torn asunder in recent years by the "Big Dig," a massive construction project. But convention organizers say that the oft-delayed project, which has left gaping pockmarks throughout the city, should be largely complete by next summer.

"We hope to know the nominee early, by March 10," McAuliffe said. "What do we still need to do? Oh boy, well, everything."

Menendez's Protective PAC

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Robert Menendez (N.J.) has created a new vehicle to collect cash for his party's most vulnerable members: a political action committee called "Frontline."

Menendez and others have raised $600,000 for the PAC, which will aid 20 targeted incumbents. The list of beneficiaries may expand, Menendez said, although he is hoping "it contracts."

"We want to ensure they have the early resources to solidify their reelection," he said. "These members are on the front line of our efforts to achieve a majority."

The multi-candidate PAC has a fundraising goal of $1 million, and gives donors an option: They can give to the group as a whole or they can earmark their contribution for a candidate. Menendez said that while Democrats are hoping to make inroads into the GOP 12-seat majority in the House, they also need to protect their own. "They're members of the family," he said.

Staff writer Juliet Eilperin in Washington contributed to this report.

Hispanic Voters Hold Key to 2004, Gov. Says

July 27, 2003
Copyright © 2003 Albuquerque Journal. All rights reserved.

SANTA FE -- Gov. Bill Richardson has long called Hispanics a "sleeping giant" with the potential to alter the national political landscape.

Hispanics now are the nation's largest minority group. Richardson says they could determine the outcome of the 2004 presidential election, as well as other key races across the nation.

"In this next election, we must send a message of the power of our numbers," Richardson told the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) at its annual meeting in late June in Phoenix. "Because some people are wondering -- this sleeping giant, is it for real?"

Richardson is a Democrat, the nation's only Hispanic governor, a former President Clinton Cabinet secretary and ambassador who, some believe, harbors White House ambitions of his own. He has assumed a leadership role in boosting the political fortunes and influence of Hispanics.

He acknowledged the rapidly growing Hispanic communities across the United States might share language and faith and have common cultural values, but they are not all of the same mind when it comes to politics and national issues.

Richardson, who successfully juggled diverse political interests as a New Mexico congressman for 15 years, thinks he can unite the different groups, including Cuban-Americans, Puerto Ricans and Mexican-Americans.

Hispanics, nationally, have traditionally supported Democrats by a 2-to-1 margin, but Republicans, led by President Bush, have made gains in recent elections, said Adam Segal, who heads the Hispanic Voter Project at Johns Hopkins University.

GOP ratings rise

Bush, a former two-term Texas governor, captured 35 percent of the Hispanic vote in the 2000 presidential race, nearly twice that of Bob Dole in 1996.

Rudy Fernandez, grass-roots director for the Republican National Committee, said Republicans are making significant inroads with Hispanics in several key states, including Florida.

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the president's brother, won a majority of votes cast by Latinos in his successful 2002 re-election campaign.

Jeb Bush, whose wife is a native of Mexico, did well not just among Republican-leaning Cuban-Americans in southern Florida, but among Mexican and Central American Hispanics in central Florida, Fernandez said in an RNC memo.

Similarly, New York Gov. George Pataki enjoyed strong Hispanic support in his successful re-election bid in 2002.

"The fact is, Republicans are making gains with Hispanics nationwide," Fernandez said in an interview. "We took it on the chin in New Mexico, but it's going to take a lot more than Bill Richardson to reverse this trend nationwide."

In the 2002 governor's race in New Mexico, Richardson received about 75 percent of the Hispanic vote, while Republican nominee John Sanchez got about 25 percent.

"Whichever candidate captures the marginal Hispanic voters will be the next president of the United States," said Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-Texas, who chairs the Congressional Hispanic Caucus at the NALEO conference in Phoenix. "Our voice is getting louder and we all know it."

Richardson believes the majority of Hispanics will continue to vote Democratic.

"The issue is erosion," Richardson said. If the Democratic nominee were to slip to 60 percent or below in a presidential race "it could be a deciding factor," he said.

President Bush is a threat because of his personal popularity with Hispanics, Richardson said. "That's the only threat Democrats have -- the coattails of President Bush. We cannot take the Hispanic vote for granted."

To shore up their support with Hispanics, Democrats need to broaden their message, Richardson said.

"The Democratic Party has had a problem articulating an economic message to all voters," Richardson said. "We cannot just focus on the traditional Hispanic issues of immigration and civil rights."

Political tug-of-war

Richardson will likely be named chairman of the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston next July.

He recently formed a political action committee aimed at getting more Hispanics involved in the 2004 elections. "We are focusing our PAC in four battleground states: New Mexico, Arizona, Florida and Nevada," Richardson said.

Critics said the moves are designed to enhance Richardson's own political agenda. But Richardson insists he has no national ambitions in 2004 and plans to run for re-election as governor in 2006.

"The Democrats are desperate because they know the Democratic Party is not delivering for Latinos and the Latino community is noticing," said Sharon Castillo, deputy director of communications for the Republican National Committee. "From education to health care to housing, the president has delivered for Hispanics."

Castillo acknowledged that Richardson "is definitely a player when it comes to Hispanic outreach." But she noted that Republican Pete Domenici, New Mexico's senior senator, has had a political action committee designed to help Hispanic candidates for a number of years.

Two of Bush's 11 regional chairmen for his 2004 re-election campaign are Hispanic, including Albuquerque small-businessman John Sanchez.

Sanchez, who lost the 2002 governor's race to Richardson, will lead Bush's re-election campaign in five Southwestern states, including New Mexico and Texas.

"The Hispanic vote may be one of the big factors in deciding the outcome of the race for president," Sanchez agreed.

Former state Republican Party chairman Edward Lujan of Albuquerque is somewhat bemused by all the attention the two major parties are showering on Hispanics for 2004. He's heard much of it before.

"The big difference I see right now is the talk is louder today than it ever was," Lujan said in an interview. "Everybody, both parties are talking about wooing Hispanics."

In 1988, Lujan chaired an RNC committee, which issued a report designed to help the GOP "build coalitions within the minority and ethnic communities."

Lujan said his committee found that the critical factor in getting more Hispanics and other minorities involved in politics was to take a door-to-door, personal approach.

"Our report was pretty simple," Lujan said recently. "People want to be wanted and they want to be asked. I'm still not sure they're being asked. ... I see a lot of talk about it, but I don't know if anybody is really door-knocking and saying to Hispanics, 'I really want you involved.' "

Critical constituency

Segal, of the Hispanic Voter Project, said Hispanics will play an unprecedented role in helping select the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee because of what he has dubbed "Hispanic Tuesday," when New Mexico and five other states will pick their presidential favorites Feb. 3.

Pushed by Richardson, the state Democratic Party plans to hold a presidential nominating caucus on Feb. 3, the same day as Arizona's primary election.

Richardson contends New Mexico has had little influence in selecting the presidential nominee in the past because the state's primary election is held so late in the game -- the first Tuesday in June.

"For the first time, two states with large, growing Hispanic populations will hold primaries or caucuses on the same date in the first multistate round of Democratic presidential contests," Segal said in a new report. Only New Hampshire and Iowa will pick their presidential favorites earlier.

Hispanics account for 42 percent of New Mexico's 1.8 million people, while 25 percent of Arizona's population is Hispanic.

New Mexico became the first minority-majority state in 2000, meaning the sum of minority populations is more than 50 percent of the total state population. Hispanics make up about 39 percent of New Mexico's voting-age population, according to the 2000 Census.

Segal said the decision by the Democratic National Committee to hold its first sanctioned debate for all nine presidential contenders on Sept. 4 in Albuquerque should not be downplayed. The debate, hosted by Richardson and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, will be broadcast on television jointly by Univision and PBS stations.

"To have the first debate focus on Hispanic issues and to have it simulcast on Spanish television is a really remarkable development," Segal said. "It shows how much importance the party leadership at the very highest levels is placing on outreach."

Republicans and Democrats have been practically tripping over each other lately in trumpeting what each party is doing for Hispanics, Segal said.

For example, the Republican National Committee recently opened a Hispanic outreach office in New York City.

Earlier this month, Congressional Democrats outlined a new policy agenda that stresses issues of importance to Hispanics, such as health care and immigration.

And the White House recently announced it was teaming with leading Hispanic organizations, including the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, to form Partners in Hispanic Education, a program designed to involve parents in their children's education and improve students' preparation for college.

The GOP group is planning to hold town hall meetings, financial aid seminars and workshops for students, parents and business leaders in six cities, including Las Cruces, in the coming months.

"There are daily indications that both the Democrats and the Republicans are going to devote more resources and outreach to the Hispanic community," Segal said. 

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