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The Associated Press

Hispanic Vote May Be Pivotal In Recall

By Michelle Morgante | The Associated Press

August 31, 2003
Copyright © 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. 

SAN DIEGO -- Hispanic voters, 16 percent of California's electorate and three times as likely to favor Democrats over Republicans, are poised to play an important -- and perhaps deciding -- role in the upcoming recall election.

The prospect of electing the state's first Hispanic governor in more than a century if Gov. Gray Davis is recalled is rallying some support for Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante. Several recent surveys show him leading Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger by a double-digit margin among likely Hispanic voters.

But large numbers of Hispanics remain undecided -- 36 percent according to the Public Policy Institute of California and 14 percent according to the Field Institute, a public-policy research organization that focuses on the state.

With five weeks left for candidates to win their support, attention is going to issues seen as important to Hispanic voters.

"Everyone wants the support of the Hispanic people because they're seeing that we're a great portion of the voters.. . . And in the future, we'll be the majority," Raul Cornejo, a 34-year-old immigrant from Tijuana, Mexico, said in Spanish as he cleared banquet tables at a San Diego hotel after a speech by Davis to Hispanic business leaders.

Bustamante, the grandson of Mexican immigrants, is reminding audiences of his working-class roots as he makes the rounds.

On Saturday, Bustamante accepted the endorsement of the United Farm Workers union, speaking in English and Spanish. The crowd hailed the candidate along with the UFW's late leader, chanting, "Viva Bustamante, Viva Cesar Chavez."

"I'm proud to stand with United Farm Workers, who I have marched with shoulder to shoulder, the farmworkers who are the heart of the agriculture industry," Bustamante said in the central California town of Delano. "Those hands bring food to our tables."

Davis has dropped Spanish phrases in his speeches and touted his willingness to give drivers licenses to some undocumented immigrants, a measure he rejected last year.

Austrian-born Schwarzenegger is playing up his own immigration story and this week tapped a Hispanic hero -- Jaime Escalante, the former East Los Angeles calculus teacher portrayed in the film Stand and Deliver -- to join his education advisory team.

In a race in which votes could be split among several candidates, the one who is able to solidify Hispanic support could be the one to win, said Harry Pachon, president of the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute think tank based at the University of Southern California.

"That 16 percent of California voters, especially if you get a block of them, becomes very significant," Pachon said.

Whether Hispanics turn out at the polls on election day is another matter.

Hispanics make up one-third of California's population but less than one-fifth of voters. In comparison, non-Hispanic whites made up 47 percent of the population but 71 percent of voters.

Bustamante can't assume he has a lock on Hispanic voters, said Melinda Guzman, chairwoman of the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, which represents more than 450,000 Hispanic-owned businesses.

"Latinos are not unlike any other community. It's a very diverse community," Guzman said. "At the end of the day, it's going to depend on who gets their message out and who does the most outreach."

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