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GOP Courts Hispanic Voters, Democratic Response No `Empty Promises'… Florida Registration Drive Seeks New Hispanic Voters

GOP Courts Hispanic Voters

In Orlando, Republicans kick off a campaign to reach Hispanic voters, believed to be a crucial voting bloc in this year's presidential election.


April 13, 2004
Copyright © 2004 Miami Herald. All rights reserved.

ORLANDO - The tug-of-war for the critical Hispanic vote in the presidential election intensified Monday with the bilingual Gov. Jeb Bush launching his brother's national outreach effort -- after an introduction by his Mexican-born wife, Columba.

The ''Viva Bush'' rally -- an event featuring a mariachi band and Mexican singer Alicia Villarreal -- provided the official start-up for President Bush's pitch to a coveted voting bloc that has the potential to deliver up-for-grabs battleground states, including Florida.

And it comes as a national Democratic advocacy group vows to put up millions to make a play among Hispanics in South Florida, long viewed as staunchly Republican.

From a stage at a Latin-themed restaurant at the Universal Studios park, the Florida governor told a crowd of nearly 300 that his brother, ''more than any other president before him,'' recognizes and values Hispanic contributions.

To cheers, he ticked off a list of presidential appointees, including former U.S. Housing Secretary Mel Martinez, a Cuban American who is now seeking the Republican nomination for an open U.S. Senate seat.

''It's important to share the values of a growing population that will make a difference in this campaign,'' the governor said. ``George Bush gets it.''

The outreach effort -- with teams in 30 states -- continues today in Kansas City, but the choice of Orlando for the inaugural event signals that Florida, particularly the vein of independent-leaning voters from Orlando to Tampa, will be at the center of the national fight for the Hispanic vote.

A national poll conducted for The Herald late last month showed John Kerry, the presumed Democratic presidential nominee, with a 58 percent to 33 percent lead over President Bush among Hispanic voters nationwide.

Democrats have vowed not to cede the traditionally Democratic base, but Republican strategists suggest that Bush only has to improve his performance among Hispanics by a few points to swing the balance in several states, including New Mexico, which he lost by just a few hundred votes in 2000.

The campaign efforts have been evident: President Bush has proposed granting legal status for millions of undocumented immigrants working in the United States, and Gov. Bush last week voiced support for a controversial effort to give drivers' licenses to undocumented aliens. Both moves are apparent efforts to energize Hispanics to vote Republican.

Jeb Bush raised few policy considerations, however, telling participants that his brother is the more trustworthy candidate, portraying him as a plain-spoken man -- ''He'll never be ambassador to anywhere that I know of'' -- in contrast to the Massachusetts senator, who is married to a millionaire.

''John Kerry has worked a couple days of his life in the private sector; he's never met a payroll,'' Gov. Bush said. ``He has very little clue of what it's like for families to make ends meet.''


The Kerry campaign, which hopes to energize a growing Puerto Rican Democratic base in Central Florida and take advantage of a rift between President Bush and some in the Cuban-American community, scoffed at the outreach effort, suggesting it was more show than substance.

''The Bush campaign will kick off its Hispanic outreach program in Orlando, but any kick-off won't hide the fact that they're way off on the issues,'' said former U.S. Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros, who in a Friday conference call with reporters said the Republican rhetoric rings hollow when it comes to delivering jobs and education to Hispanics.

Kerry's campaign also is being aided by a Democratic advocacy group, the New Democrat Network, which has close ties to members of Congress and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. The group, which is already running anti-Bush ads in Miami, Orlando and Tampa, on Monday unveiled another ad in Orlando, accusing Bush of presiding over higher unemployment rates among Hispanics.


Miami-based pollster Sergio Bendixen, who is consulting for the group, said it will stick to pocketbook issues as it tries to compete with Republicans for Hispanic voters, including -- for the first time in 30 years -- staunchly Republican Cuban-Americans.

''We're not going to sell the Democratic party by making empty promises about Cuba,'' Bendixen said. "My sales pitch has been to wage a campaign on three issues that most people care about: the economy, education and healthcare. It's there we have the opportunity to make a dent.''

Florida Registration Drive Seeks New Hispanic Voters

A new nonpartisan group wants to register 50,000 Hispanics to vote in Florida, a development that could affect the presidential and Senate races in this election year.


April 15, 2004
Copyright © 2004 Miami Herald. All rights reserved.

In a state where Hispanics already hold considerable political influence, a new nonpartisan voter outreach group is embarking on an ambitious drive to put 50,000 more Hispanics on the voting rolls before November.

The statewide registration drive could have a significant political impact in a state that decided the 2000 presidential election by a little more than 500 votes, and where Hispanics are a key swing group.

It could also affect the political parties' primary-election races for the U.S. Senate nomination, both of which include Cuban-American candidates.

The group, called Mi Familia Vota (My Family Votes), is partnering with MTV's Choose or Lose and Rock the Vote initiatives, local media and several well-known leaders across the state to get the word out.

It is also sending canvassers door to door across South and Central Florida and the Tampa Bay area.

Campaign spokesmen for President Bush and likely Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry both say that Mi Familia Vota could have a strong influence in Florida.

''Florida is going to be one of the most competitive states in the country again this year, and every single vote will matter,'' Kerry campaign spokesman Mark Kornblau said. ``An effort like this can have an extraordinary impact on the election, not just in Florida but throughout the country.''

A poll conducted for the group by pollster Sergio Bendixen determined that about one-third of Hispanic U.S. citizens in Florida, up to 400,000 people, are not registered to vote.


''This is about Hispanic empowerment,'' said Jorge Mursuli, Florida director of People for the American Way Foundation, who is spearheading the project. ``This community is completely up for grabs.''

To register the voters, the group first has to find them, which may prove difficult. But organizers say the Bendixen poll is a good start, providing a demographic snapshot of this politically promising group of citizens.

''It's like finding a needle in a haystack,'' Mursuli said.

According to the poll, most unregistered Hispanics live in Miami-Dade County and the biggest group is of South American origin, not Cuban or Puerto Rican as conventional wisdom might assume.

Bendixen said it was one of the most difficult polls he has ever conducted -- taking a month, when it should have taken a week. In the end, he interviewed 600 people for the sample, which has a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.

He started by randomly choosing people with Hispanic names from phone books around the state, then calling them and asking whether they considered themselves Hispanics, whether they were citizens, and whether they were registered to vote.

While polls show that Hispanics nationwide tend to favor the Democratic Party and are more likely to vote for Kerry, the leaders of Mi Familia Vota don't want to speculate on which party or candidates their drive may help politically.

Also, Florida's Hispanic vote is less predictable because of the large number of Cuban-American voters, who heavily support President Bush.

In a little more than a month, the group has registered about 4,000 Hispanics. In keeping with the nonpartisan spirit of the drive, Mursuli did not want to disclose which party had benefited more so far. But he said the majority were independents.

Mi Familia Vota is funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, People for the American Way, the Center for Immigrant Democracy and other private donors, Mursuli said.

Both the Bush and Kerry campaigns feel that the effort could help them.

''Anytime that voter turnout is increased, I think Kerry is helped,'' Kerry spokesman Kornblau said. ``Particularly among Hispanic Americans, John Kerry's support is very strong.''

Bush campaign spokeswoman Sharon Castillo said any effort to increase Hispanic participation in the political process was welcome.

''We are going to be working really hard to win their hearts and minds,'' Castillo said. ``We are confident that the more they learn about president Bush's policies . . . the more their support will follow.''


According to the poll, most unregistered Hispanics, 81 percent, prefer to speak Spanish. The bulk of them, 31 percent, live in Miami-Dade County; 21 percent live in the Orlando area, 16 percent in Broward County and 19 percent in Palm Beach County.

About 30 percent are from South America, 20 percent are Cuban, 14 percent are Central American, 13 percent are Mexican, and 11 percent are either Puerto Rican or Dominican.

Most have children living at home, have lived in Florida for less than 10 years and own their homes.

Many have felt discriminated against at some point because of their ethnicity, and strongly support minimum-wage increases, more spending on public schools, and legalization of undocumented immigrants.

''This will have a national implication,'' political consultant Fred Balsera, who is working with Mi Familia Vota, said of the registration drive. ``The attention of the entire world is on Florida and Florida's Hispanics. We have to capitalize on that opportunity.''


A new nonpartisan group, Mi Familia Vota, wants to register 50,000 Hispanics in Florida by November, a move that could affect the presidential and Senate races. Here is a demographic snapshot of unregistered Hispanic citizens:

• Prefer Spanish: 81 percent

• Make less than $40,000 a year: 65 percent

• Own their homes: 57 percent

• Catholic: 68 percent

• Protestant: 13 percent

• Get most news from Spanish TV: 68 percent

• Members of labor unions: 4 percent

• Have children living at home: 62 percent

• Believe minimum wage should be raised: 96 percent

• Live in: Miami-Dade County, 31 percent; Orlando area, 21 percent; Palm Beach County, 19 percent; Broward County, 16 percent; Hillsborough County, 14 percent

• Come from: South America, 30 percent; Cuba, 20 percent; Central America, 14 percent; Mexico, 13 percent; Puerto Rico or Dominican Republic, 11 percent

Source: Bendixen & Associates poll

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