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Why Kerry May Choose A Latino VP…He Leads Bush In Poll Of Latin Voters… 'Hispanic' Vote Difficult To Define, Harder To Win

Why Kerry May Choose A Latino VP

By Pilar Marrero, Pacific News Service

March 24, 2004
Copyright ©2004 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.

He's the popular Democratic governor of a southwestern state, with the unlikely advantage of being an experienced international diplomat. He was born in California, but spent his childhood in Mexico City. He speaks real Spanish — not the spanglish kind — and has been nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize. He's a political moderate with charisma and charm.

Those are some of the reasons why New Mexico governor, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, former congressman and former Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson Lopez is on everyone's short list as a potential vice presidential nominee to accompany Sen. John Kerry on his bid for the White House.

Though close to 60 people have been mentioned as possible running mates, Richardson is no doubt on Kerry's short list, too.

It's not the first time Richardson has been this close to the vice presidency. In 2000, he made no secret of his ambition to share the ticket with Al Gore, but was quickly dropped from contention after nuclear secrets were stolen from the Los Alamos National Laboratory and later found behind a copy machine. Richardson wasn't exactly to blame for the security lapses, which over decades had become legendary within the Department of Energy, but because he was at the helm he was deemed responsible.

Republicans in Congress, obviously nervous at the prospect of Richardson on the ticket, made a huge deal of the incident. This time, however, the issue has likely lost its ability to neutralize the governor.

Democrats have already given Richardson a prominent position in this election cycle, as chairman of the Democratic National Convention that will nominate Kerry in Boston at the end of July. He heads Moving America Forward, a political committee aimed at registering Latinos in Arizona, Florida, New Mexico and Nevada.

Those states are precisely why Richardson is such an attractive choice for the VP spot: As the South goes increasingly Republican, Democratic strategy could shift to courting the Latino vote in the battleground states of the Southwest and even in Florida, where the non-Cuban, Latino Democratic vote is growing fast.

There are other interesting potential VPs on Kerry's short list, such as Sen. John Edwards, the smart, attractive, populist campaigner who gave Kerry a run for his money in the presidential primary. But if the question is, "Can you carry your state and help carry other states outside of the nominee's reach?" then many experts say Richardson is the better choice. No one knows for sure if Edwards or anyone else can help Kerry win anywhere in the South.

Choosing Richardson over a Southerner would challenge the traditional wisdom that no Democrat can win the White House without being from the South or having significant support there. It would signal a strategy shift, a gamble on building more support in the Southwest, where Latinos are a growing presence.

In 2000, Gore carried New Mexico by only 366 votes and lost Arizona and Nevada to Bush. California and Texas are foregone conclusions — the first for the Democrat and the second for the president — but in a close race the smaller states could be the key to victory.

Richardson could help defeat the effort by Bush and his political point man Karl Rove to garner 40 percent or more of the Latino vote. The idea of voting for a half-Mexican who could be a heartbeat away from the presidency would be tempting for most Latinos across the nation.

Richardson has some potential downfalls: his enthusiastic support for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), for one. While in Congress, Richardson was a key vote-getter for NAFTA on behalf of the Clinton administration, back when Democrats were running as centrists and not populists. That puts him at odds with many Democrats from the heartland, who feel the pinch of jobs fleeing overseas and who espouse a more protectionist attitude.

Choosing Richardson for vice president could also alienate African Americans, who have expressed support for Edwards. Also, the black community has voted against Latino candidates in some local and state races, when they feel their political power is being undermined by the new largest minority. Few African Americans will vote for Bush, but they may abstain if they feel unrepresented in the Democratic ticket.

On the other hand, African Americans may cast their ballots for anyone if they dislike the incumbent enough. In California's gubernatorial recall election, blacks supported Latino candidate Cruz Bustamante at a higher rate than Latinos.

Richardson predicted in 2000 that, "if not this time, for sure next time" there will be a Latino on the Democratic ticket. He insisted then that America was ready for such a revolutionary proposition.

Perhaps 2004 will do the trick. Even if Richardson does not become Kerry's right-hand man, most people who know the governor know he would love another position in a potential Kerry administration: Secretary of State.

PNS contributor Pilar Marrero is a political columnist and metropolitan news editor for La Opinion Newspaper in Los Angeles.

Kerry Leads In Poll Of Latin Voters

A Herald poll of Hispanic voters nationwide shows that they prefer John Kerry, but also indicates that President Bush has a chance to make inroads in that crucial voting group.


April 4, 2004
Copyright ©2004
THE MIAMI HERALD. All rights reserved.

John Kerry, the presumed Democratic presidential nominee, holds a wide but not necessarily comfortable lead over President Bush among Hispanic voters nationwide, giving both sides room to maneuver within that critical constituency, according to a new poll.

Results of The Herald/Zogby International Hispanic Poll foreshadow an aggressive outreach effort by both campaigns as they seek to woo a coveted voting bloc that has the potential to tip key battleground states such as Florida, New Mexico and Arizona.

The results also reflect national surveys that have found that, with eight months to go before the election, voters of all backgrounds remain polarized.

''The Hispanic vote is borderline for Kerry and it's borderline for the president,'' said pollster John Zogby, who conducted the survey of 1,000 likely voters. ``Nothing is going to make this one easy to predict.''

Kerry, who secured the nomination just last month, holds an apparently cushy 58 percent to 33 percent lead over Bush among voters who identify themselves as Hispanic. But the survey reveals potential hurdles for the senator from Massachusetts. Strategists say he must keep Bush's support among Hispanic Americans to less than 35 percent if he is to have a shot at defeating the president.

Bush narrowly secured the White House in 2000 in part by chewing into the traditionally Democratic Hispanic base and drawing 35 percent of its vote. Although Cuban Americans in South Florida are overwhelmingly Republican, Hispanics with roots in other Latin American countries tend to vote Democratic.

Encouraged by the 2000 numbers -- and the presence in Florida of Bush's popular younger brother in the governor's mansion -- Republicans are seeking to boost Bush's standing among Hispanic Americans to 40 percent this year, with Bush hitting hard on conservative issues that play well with Hispanics, such as family values and religion.


The president's reelection campaign will launch what it says is an unprecedented nationwide Hispanic grass-roots mobilization effort with a rally April 12 in Orlando -- signaling that Florida, particularly independent-leaning voters from Orlando to Tampa, will be at the center of the fight for the Hispanic vote.

Kerry's campaign, too, has pledged to make Florida a key battleground, hoping to energize the growing Puerto Rican Democratic base in Central Florida, which Bush lost to Al Gore in 2000.

Kerry's campaign sees opportunity, too, among Cuban-American voters in South Florida, who some polls suggest are disenchanted with Bush's lack of progress on helping to democratize Cuba.

The Herald poll, though, suggests that without yet mounting a concentrated effort, Bush may be holding his own, polling strongly among voters who like him personally.

''If he's targeting 40 percent, never say never,'' Zogby said. ``These are indicators that show some potential. John Kerry is not yet there.''

The survey was conducted Monday through Wednesday last week and carries a margin of error of 3.2 percentage points.

Mirroring polls of all voters, the survey shows that Bush's strongest support among Hispanic Americans is in the South, with almost 40 percent backing his reelection -- a reflection of his mostly staunch Cuban-American support and the region's conservatism.


More worrisome for Kerry, Bush's support is at 36 percent in the Central/Great Lakes region, including the battleground industrial states of Michigan and Ohio, where Kerry has lambasted the president for the loss of jobs.

But the poll shows plenty of room for Kerry to make inroads. Less than half of Hispanic voters, for example, give Bush a solid job-performance rating.

Less than half of Hispanic voters have a favorable opinion of Bush, and, more ominously, 62 percent said it's ``time for someone new.''

In contrast, Kerry's popularity among Hispanic voters is a strong 66 percent, and a surprising number of Hispanics say they are pro-choice on the abortion issue, as is Kerry.

The poll shows troubling numbers for Bush, too, on one of the central issues of his campaign -- his leadership. More than half of Hispanic voters believe the country is heading in the wrong direction, and just as many oppose the war in Iraq.


''I hate to say it, but I think he was doing it all for his dad,'' said poll respondent Antonio Ramos, 60, who lives outside Toledo, Ohio. ``I really think Bush was fighting his father's thing.''

In recent weeks, Kerry has opened a new front, accusing the White House of failing to promote democratic reforms in Venezuela, and there are some signs that it's working. With nine of every 10 Hispanic voters rating current U.S. policy toward Latin America as either ''very important or somewhat important,'' the president was given a decidedly unexceptional grade on Latin America policy, with only 35 percent saying he's doing a ''good'' or ''excellent'' job.

Still, Bush has been able to push back at Kerry's changing stands on Cuba issues, and that has resonated with his Hispanic base in South Florida.


''Toward Latin America, I think Bush has had a pretty moderate attitude and has been very discreet,'' said Little Havana resident Enrique Soto, a Cuban American who plans to vote for Bush in November and who responded to the survey. ``He has tried to support democratic governments and condemn others. And he is trying to combat corruption there and foment free trade.''

Bush's ratings among elderly Hispanics, though, may be particularly worrisome to the White House. Among those 65 and older, more than seven in 10 said they would back Kerry, despite Republican efforts to court seniors with a high-profile prescription drug bill.

But in a worrisome sign for Democrats, the poll shows that consumer advocate Ralph Nader would siphon votes from Kerry but not from Bush -- reducing Kerry's support among Hispanic Americans by two percentage points, potentially swinging a squeaky-tight election.

Herald staff writer Oscar Corral contributed to this report.

'Hispanic' Vote Difficult To Define, Harder To Win


January 13, 2004
Copyright ©2004 I
THE MIAMI HERALD. All rights reserved.

The Mexico summit that winds up today between President Bush and Latin American leaders comes only days after the administration delivered an immigration reform plan that represents its first salvo in the battle to capture the Hispanic vote in 2004.

Sadly for the president and those behind his political strategies, however, there is no such thing as a Hispanic vote.

Hispanics now comprise the largest minority in the United States. With numbers now approaching 40 million, immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries and their descendants account for more than 13 percent of the country's population, narrowly surpassing African-Americans. That makes the Latino vote -- and the Latino dollar -- a gleaming prize in the American market.

Capturing the Latino vote, however, is a much more complicated task than going after the black vote, or that of most other minorities.

The problem for politicians is that Latinos come from dozens of countries; they have widely varying backgrounds and hold a range of differing views. In fact, in a 2002 poll by the Pew Hispanic Center, only 14 percent said they believe Hispanics share one culture.

Liberal, conservative mix

While it is true that Hispanics tend to identify themselves as Democrats, they also lean toward more conservative views on matters like abortion and homosexuality. But political differences between Hispanics and rest of the U.S. population begin to fade away for Spanish-speakers who arrived at an early age and for the growing percentage who were born here.

Some general trends do exist, but in reality there is little in common between, say, wealthy Miami Cubans who fled Communism after Fidel Castro took power, and impoverished Central Americans looking for a better life in the United States. A Spanish-speaking physician in an American hospital may sympathize with the plight of a Mexican farm worker in California, but the same political pitch will not work to gain both votes.

The catch-all term ''Hispanic,'' now running head-to-head with ''Latino'' as the favored label, includes millions of U.S.-born citizens, some of whom don't speak Spanish. It includes hundreds of thousands of European immigrants, mostly from Spain, who have never set foot in Latin America.

Categories fail

America's obsession with counting and categorizing has long put Hispanics in a quandary. When filling out surveys, Hispanics must often decide whether they are white or black or Hispanic, when in reality they are almost always at least two of the three. Hispanics come in black, brown, white and everything in between. Most are Catholics, but there are millions of Protestants, as well as Jews and Muslims. There are gay and straight Hispanics, liberals and conservatives, rich and poor.

Many Hispanic families have lived in the United States for generations. They may support or oppose the president's immigration plan, but their vote will hardly be determined by what the president plans to do about undocumented workers. Like the rest of the country, most Hispanics will make a decision based on other issues close to their hearts. Chances are that the economy, taxes, the war in Iraq, and maybe such social questions as abortion or education will play a more important role in how they decide to cast their vote.

A reform of immigration policy is needed, and if an imaginary political gain is what makes it happen, let the politicians' imaginations run wild. When the votes are tallied, the pundits will, again, erroneously dissect the ''Hispanic vote.'' The pandering will have failed, so the strategists will get to work once again, seeking a new strategy. Again they will fail, because they are pandering up the wrong tree.

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