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Republican Leaders Seeking To Increase Hispanic Vote…Smell The Café: Both Parties Woo Hispanics

Republican Leaders Seeking To Increase Hispanic Vote


April 15, 2004
Copyright © 2004
Associated Press. All rights reserved.

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. - Republican leaders urged Hispanic party members Thursday to contact Spanish talk radio and newspapers to defend President Bush and help increase GOP support among a group that has historically been part of the Democrats' base.

Party leaders argued that Bush's policies have helped Hispanics economically and in education, but that the message needs to be heard.

"The other party, they say the president hasn't done anything for Latinos, but what did they do?" said Rosario Marin, who Bush appointed to the White House Initiative on Excellence in Education for Hispanic-Americans. "He's done far more than they did in the previous eight years that they had."

She was addressing several dozen Hispanic Republicans attending the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, a three-day meeting of GOP activists from around the South and Texas.

Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie said Bush cited recent elections to show Hispanics are increasingly supporting the party. He said in 1996, Bob Dole received 26 percent of the Hispanic vote, in 2000 President Bush received 35 percent and in 2000 Senate and House candidates were backed by 39 percent of Hispanic voters.

Republican strategist Ralph Reed added, "In 2004 I am confident that George W. Bush is going to get the highest percentage of the Hispanic vote for a Republican presidential candidate in the history of the United States of America."

Tony Welch, a spokesman for Democratic National Committee, disagreed, saying Bush's numbers are down among Hispanics in recent polls. He added that Hispanics have suffered economically during Bush's presidency, with 1.4 million losing their jobs since Bush took office.

"If it's a referendum on the Bush record, then President Bush is probably going to do worse than he did in 2000 among Hispanic voters," Welch said. "Hispanic voters have seen the Bush administration long on rhetoric and short on results."

Still, Reed said many Hispanics who leave their country - like Cubans who risk their lives crossing the Florida Straits or Mexicans crossing the border in the Southwest - appreciate the values represented by the party.

"This president has delivered a message of passion and concern, that the family values and the hunger for freedom that we love doesn't end at Key West; it doesn't end at the Rio Grande," Reed said.

The party is no longer just targeting the large Hispanic populations in states like Florida, California, Arizona and Texas, Reed said, adding that Georgia has the fastest growing Hispanic population and the Republicans have recently registered 10,000 new Hispanic voters there.

He urged others to continue that effort elsewhere.

"We've got to go to the apartment buildings and the precincts and the neighborhoods of the newly arrived Americans who want to be part of our team and we need to lay a welcome mat in front of our party and say 'If you believe in the values of America and our party, come on in,'" Reed said.

Mercy Viana-Schlapp, who served as Bush's Spanish spokeswoman, told the group that 68 percent of Hispanics get their news in Spanish, so it is important to reach out to Spanish language media.

"Whenever negative op-ed pieces are written, it is important to send a letter to the editor," she said.

She said earlier in the day she heard a caller to a Miami Spanish language radio station attacking Bush.

"It is our duty to call into these radio stations, get on the line and defend the president and his policies," Viana-Schlapp said. "We can help build the momentum and take the lead in delivering the president's message to Hispanic grass roots organizations, churches and media."

Smell The Café: Both Parties Woo Hispanics

Myriam Marquez


April 14, 2004

Barely two years ago John Q. couldn't get Jeb Bush's attention in the Puerto Rican lawyer's bid for a newly created open state House seat. Quiñones played up his island roots and beat Jose Fernandez, a savvy, moderate Democrat of Nicaraguan descent in a nasty, divisive race that saw Puerto Rican Democrats cross for John Q. and "Jeb!" in 2002.

Today John Q. stands next to Florida's governor as Kingmaker. This week he was touting family values at the Bush/Cheney kickoff in Orlando for the GOP's national Hispanic outreach.

It's a tough job. He's rallying Hispanics, particularly Puerto Rican Democrats, to vote for Jeb's big brother to keep the White House, but good jobs, strong wages and affordable health insurance remain elusive for too many Latinos in Central Florida. In 2000, most of this area's Hispanic voters turned out for Al Gore, though W. made a strong showing here and swept Miami-Dade County's Cuban-American districts.

The president can't afford to take any chances. Not at the epicenter of Florida's swing-vote corridor, Interstate 4. And not with so many Orlando-area Hispanic voters up for grabs.

The White House is playing smart politics. It dispatched Orlando's Mel Martinez back to Florida to take on Bill McCollum in the GOP primary for the U.S. Senate. Martinez can energize the vote for Bush in Central Florida and among South Florida's Cuban enclaves. And W. has John Q. to court Puerto Ricans of all parties.

Meanwhile, Jeb's been talking up drivers licenses for illegal immigrants -- an idea shot down by sheriffs and GOP operatives faster than you can say Viva Bush!

Allowing drivers licenses for immigrants who are waiting on their legal status to be determined and are willing to get a criminal background check makes sense to me.

But this problem has been around for almost three years -- since U.S. homeland-security agencies cracked down after the 9-11 attacks. Why speak up for immigrants now?

The timing of Jeb's aw-shucks support for licenses just days before the Hispanic outreach rally couldn't be more suspect. By mentioning the license proposal and then acknowledging that it needs more study, he comes away a champion for immigrants.

Democratic Party leaders hope to expose such double-talk, but their candidate has his own problems taking consistent positions. Democrat John Kerry trails Bush with only 36 percent support among Florida's Hispanic voters, according to a recent Mason-Dixon poll.

The Dems are planning a three-day strategy powwow in Orlando in May, a signal that they're finally taking the Hispanic vote seriously. Evelyn Rivera, an Orange County Democratic Party activist, is starting a statewide group of Puerto Rican Democrats.

Nationally, the Democrats are putting big money into Spanish TV and radio ads to compete with the GOP. Locally, the Dems can tout Israel Mercado, a Puerto Rican pastor and technical-college professor who's running against Quiñones for the House seat as the Dems' family-values candidate.

Still, Quiñones the Kingmaker will be hard to beat.

If there's any doubt just how powerful the Hispanic vote will be this election in Florida and nationally, just look around and smell the sweet café from Kissimmee to Deltona.

We're in the thick of things.

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