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Bush's Pursuit Of Hispanic Vote Could End Up Hurting Him…A Growing Hispanic Vote Still Favors GOP

Bush's Pursuit Of Hispanic Vote Could End Up Hurting Him

Thomas Elias

March 5, 2004
Copyright © 2004
PASADENA STAR NEWS. All rights reserved.

SINCE his swearing in more than three years ago, only terrorism and the war in Iraq have preoccupied President Bush more than his efforts to make life easier for Mexicans in America. His trial balloons have involved amnesty, legalization, "guest worker' plans and freedom of movement for Mexican trucks.

Bush insists he's after nothing more than fairness for Mexicans, especially immigrants who pay taxes and don't freeload on public services in this country.

But his chief adviser and former campaign manager, Karl Rove, admits there's a political motive, too. Extremely aware that his boss drew well under 40 percent of the national Latino vote in 2000 less than 24 percent in California Rove has said he wants to shift big hunks of Hispanic voters into the Republican column.

Should that happen, it could sharply alter the electoral math in this state and one or two others. Look what happened when Arnold Schwarzenegger pulled about 40 percent of the Hispanic vote last fall. This has some Democrats worried. The Miami-based Democratic consultant Sergio Bendixen warned early in his administration that Bush might win over many Latino voters.

This may still be happening, but if so, it comes at a cost. For it's clear that the longer the threat of terrorism persists, the more efforts at amnesty and special treatment for Mexico or Mexicans bear major potential to backfire on Bush.

That's because some in the GOP see the inevitable long- term product of any new amnesty as a carbon copy of what flowed from the amnesty of the 1980s, conducted under Ronald Reagan: Large numbers of new Democratic-leaning voters.

Warned Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based group opposed to increased immigration, "The president can expect to lose the support of current legal immigrant workers if he does another amnesty. I think it is a stab in the back to the legal immigrant who has waited patiently to be made a permanent resident and is applying for citizenship.'

For sure, plenty of Republicans already are disgruntled with the current Bush guest-worker proposal, which would allow a new group of braceros to stay in America as much as six years. Does anyone expect many to return home meekly after that, simply giving up a life they've worked years to establish? It certainly didn't work that way when immigrants imported for the electronics industry lost their jobs in the bust early this decade. Almost all stayed on illegally.

In California, two of the four candidates for this year's Republican U.S. Senate nomination strongly oppose the Bush plan. Two dozen Republican members of Congress also warned Bush this month that he faces a backlash from Republican voters if he persists in his plan. They say GOP voters are flooding them with angry letters, e-mails and phone calls threatening to stay away from the November election if Bush presses on.

Ask Democrat Al Gore what defections from one's own party can mean to a presidential candidate. If a mere 2,000 Democrats in New Hampshire had voted for Gore rather than defecting to the Green Party's Ralph Nader, Bush never would have become president no matter what happened in Florida.

Other factors also should worry Republicans. A 2002 study from the University of Maryland predicted that the more Latinos enter this country, the more the Democrats will gain.

Democrats have a 20 percentage point advantage among Latinos in nearly all states, that study reported. "Party identification is one of the most reliable guides for voter choice,' the study added.

Ironically, labor unions do not oppose the Bush legalization. They have focused their California organizing efforts on Latinos for the last seven years and provide Democrats with the bulk of their new members' votes.

Is it likely that immigrant workers who become legalized and then join unions will soon vote Republican? Not very, when unions oppose much of what the GOP stands for, from holding the line on minimum wages to eliminating taxes on capital gains to ending affirmative action.

At the same time, the longer Bush delayed acting on legalization and amnesty, the more aggressive Mexican officials including President Vicente Fox became. Fox now advocates a completely open border with his country, and terror concerns be hanged.

It's plain that the more Bush seems to respond to Fox, the more he risks turning off his conservative Republican base.

At the same time, the Latino vote he's pursuing may be a paper tiger nationally, even if it's become vital in California, Texas and Florida. The 2000 Census, for example, found that persons identifying themselves as being of Mexican ancestry cast only 3 percent of all votes nationally. Since their numbers have been far above that here and in Texas, their presence at the polls has been minuscule everywhere else.

Which means that the more avidly Bush pursues amnesty and Hispanic votes, the more he may hurt himself.

Thomas Elias is an author and freelance writer.

A Growing Hispanic Vote Still Favors GOP

By Dario Moreno

March 7, 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE BOSTON GLOBE. All rights reserved.

It is impossible to understand Florida politics without taking into account the rising political influence of its Hispanic population. Hispanics are the state's largest minority group, comprising 16.8 percent of the total population of 16 million. They are also a sizable portion of the state's voters. Hispanics make up 11 percent of Florida's electorate, a number that has important implications for the 2004 presidential election. When one tries to analyze Florida's Hispanic politics through lenses ground to the prescription of other states, one comes away with a vision that is decidedly out of focus. Things work differently in Florida. Whereas Latinos are overwhelmingly registered as Democrats in other parts of the nation, in Florida, Hispanics are a pivotal faction in the governing Republican coalition. While in other parts of the country Hispanics vote at rates that are a mere fraction of the voter turnout rates of non-Latin whites, Cuban-Americans in South Florida vote at a rate comparable to non-Hispanic whites, and sometime even higher. Even the terms are different: Hispanic is preferred in Florida while Latino is favored in the rest of the country.

With dramatic population shifts in the past decade, Florida can no longer be characterized as a suburb of Havana. Today, Cubans are a minority of the Hispanic population -- just 31 percent. The rest are divided among Puerto Ricans (18 percent), Mexicans (13.5 percent), and more than a million Colombians, Peruvians, Nicaraguans, Dominicans, Venezuelans, and Guatemalans (37.41 percent of all Florida Hispanics).

But the majority of Florida's non-Cuban Hispanics are not yet citizens and therefore ineligible to vote. Still, the question remains: As this voting bloc emerges will it vote differently from its Cuban-American neighbors? Right now, Florida's non-Cuban Hispanic population is so diverse that it's difficult to mobilize around a common non-Cuban Latino agenda.

Moreover, even as they grow into their political strength, it's possible, even likely, that non-Cuban Hispanics will share the views of their Cuban-American neighbors. Like the Cubans, a large number of Florida's Hispanics immigrated to the United States because they were fleeing either communist regimes or Marxist guerrilla groups. These include: Venezuelans fleeing the leftist Chavez regime, Colombians who left their homeland because of the violence of the Marxist FRAC, Nicaraguans who left in the 1980s during the rule of the Cuban backed Sandinista regime, and Peruvians escaping from extremely violent leftist groups. Cuban-Americans have reached out to these other anticommunist Latinos in order to form political alliances. It was just such an alliance that elected Republican Juan Carlos Zapata, a Colombian-American, to the Florida House of Representative. Such strong ties between Cuban-Americans and other conservative Hispanic immigrants makes it extremely difficult to developed an alternative agenda among non-Cuban Hispanics.

Even among traditionally Democratic Hispanic groups, such as Puerto Ricans, Republicans have done better in Florida than in any other part of the country. Republican John Quinones, a Puerto Rican, defeated a Democratic Hispanic in a central Florida district heavily populated by Puerto Ricans. While Al Gore received an estimated 52 percent (98,716 to 91,123) of the non-Cuban Hispanic vote in the 2000 presidential election, Governor Jeb Bush easily defeated his Democratic challenger Bill McBride by a 2-to-1 margin among non-Cuban Hispanics in the 2002 gubernatorial contest.

As far as the 2004 election is concerned, despite the impressive growth of the non-Cuban Hispanic population, an overwhelming majority of Hispanic office holders and voters in Florida are still Cuban-Americans. If Cuban-American voters continue to give Republicans their strong support, Florida's Hispanics will be squarely in the GOP column this election year, as they were for President Bush in 2000. (Bush defeated Gore 356,357 to 131,804 among Cuban-Americans.)

Should John Kerry wish to do better, he must continue his strong advocacy of universal health care, develop an articulate and realistic policy toward Cuban democratization, and strongly support the economic embargo against the Castro regime. That's what Florida's Hispanic voters care about -- and they'll be watching.

Dario Moreno, is a professor of political science and director of the Metropolitan Center at Florida International University in Miami, and co-editor with Kevin Hill and Susan MacManus of "Florida's Politics: Ten Media Markets, One Powerful State."

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