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Hispanics Want More From Politicians…Vote In Hot Demand…Can Hispanic Voters Make The Difference For Bush, Kerry?

Hispanics Want More From Politicians

By Peter Brownfeld

March 15, 2004
Copyright © 2004 FOX NEWS. All rights reserved.

WASHINGTON — "Su nombre es John Kerry y ahora quiere ser presidente," says one of the Democratic presidential candidate's Spanish-language ads.

The Bush-Cheney re-election campaign is prepared to trade Kerry blow for blow in appealing to Hispanics. President Bush will use his Spanish-language skills just as he did in 2000, as well as have his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whose wife Columba is Mexican-American, stump for him.

But speaking a few words of Spanish and indulging in fajitas and salsa music is not enough to win the Hispanic vote, activists say.

"What we're seeing a lot of is attention. It's still to be seen what is going to be the substance behind the attention," said Clarissa Martinez, director of the National Council of La Raza's Latino Empowerment and Advocacy Project.

Hispanics surpassed blacks as the largest minority group in the 2000 census, numbering 35.2 million or 12 percent of the population. Hispanics are expected to grow to 18 percent of the population by 2025 and 25 percent by 2050.

Both parties know that Hispanics will be a key constituency nationwide and in swing states like New Mexico and Florida this November. For their part, Hispanics want the candidates to address their concerns in a substantive manner, not just tip their hats to their ethnicity.

"We need to break our way from this cyclical approach when people only come around during election time," Martinez said.

Asked whether the two parties were reaching out to Hispanics adequately, Miguel Diaz, director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies' South America Project, said they weren't.

"In fact, I find the approach somewhat patronizing," Diaz said. "They think parading a few Hispanic officials would be enough and speaking a few Spanish words would be sufficient. It is not. We have interests and an agenda. We deserve a more substantive reaching out on the part of the candidates."

'Don't Pander to Latinos'

The attention Hispanics received in recent elections has left them wanting more.

"What happened in 2002 with a lot of candidates campaigning in the neighborhoods made a lot of Hispanic voters realize that there's so much more that the presidential candidates should be doing to organize in the communities," said Adam J. Segal, director of the Hispanic Voter Project at Johns Hopkins University.

"Hispanic outreach and communication strategies need to be among the very top priorities within the campaign structures. The presidential candidates need to devote significant amounts of time to being featured in Spanish-language and bilingual TV, radio and print ads. They need to spend time in the communities demonstrating their immersion in the Hispanic communities and literally campaign door-to-door or community-to-community," Segal continued.

The issues Latinos care about are not significantly different from those of all Americans, with the economy and education ranking at the top, according to recent polls. But Hispanics want candidates to address the impact of these issues on their community.

Martinez said that as candidates reach out to Hispanics, they need to make sure that our "needs are addressed a part of a larger group. Don’t pander by creating a message that is meant to appeal just to Latinos. You need to address our issues, but we are connected to the rest of America."

However, there are some issues in which Hispanics have a particular interest. Martinez said that Hispanics use immigration as an "issue to gauge a candidate's respect for Latinos. Generally speaking for the community, immigration serves as that type of litmus test."

Hispanics also would like to see a greater focus on foreign policy toward Latin America.

"There is an interest to see our government engage the region more wholeheartedly. New immigrants want the American dream to extend to the hemisphere," Diaz said.

Bush and Kerry are well-positioned to reach out to the Hispanic community, Segal said. He pointed out that Bush was the governor of Texas, which has a big Hispanic population, and he speaks some Spanish. While campaigning as senator from Massachusetts, Kerry also gained experience stumping at Hispanic parades and other events.

Democrats have long had the edge in Hispanic support, with more extensive grassroots support as well as a record of championing Hispanic issues. However, Republicans have been working to cut into that advantage. Recently, such moderate Republicans as Colorado Gov. Bill Owens and New York Gov. George Pataki made appealing to Hispanics a central part of their campaigns.

Bush, Kerry Camps Reach Out

Both the Bush and Kerry campaigns are building Hispanic grassroots programs.

"We are going to be campaigning on the president's record through a very aggressive bilingual media effort. We believe the more Latinos know about the president, the more their support will follow," said Sharon Castillo, spokeswoman for the Bush-Cheney campaign.

The Bush-Cheney campaign will be heeding the advice of Hispanic activists and will also be building an extensive community-based organization. "We want to make sure that we have the most effective grassroots team in place. We are in the process of putting together a grassroots team in every state," Castillo said.

Picking up on the theme that Hispanics are ignored except for election time, John Kerry said, "Latinos can tell it's an election year because George W. Bush is finally paying attention to them."

In the statement issued March 6, Kerry continued saying that Bush failed to provide real immigration reform or an adequate focus on Latin America, two issues that he would handle differently. "Latinos and Latin America will not be used or regarded as an afterthought in my administration."

Kerry has a Hispanic outreach, and both Kerry's campaign and Bush's can be translated into Spanish.

Hispanic Vote In Hot Demand

April 19, 2004
Copyright © 2004 News Journal. All rights reserved.

Local and wire reports

WASHINGTON -- Republican luminaries, including Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, gathered last week at Orlando's Latin Quarter Restaurant to listen to salsa music, munch tortilla chips and roll out a plan to keep the White House by winning Hispanic votes in key states.

"I am honored to be here to highlight the president's impressive record of achievement with the Hispanic community and to contrast his positive agenda with that of John Kerry, which hurts Latinos and is out of touch with their values," Jeb Bush said.

Linda Rodriguez Close, a teacher at Discovery School in Mansfield, said those values tend to make her and other Hispanics lean toward the Republican Party.

"Most Mexican-born people are Catholic and fairly conservative," she said. "They agree with President Bush's views on things like abortion."

The Democratic Party swiftly countered the Republican effort by saturating Orlando's Spanish-language broadcast outlets with an ad that blamed President Bush for job losses and lack of health insurance in the Hispanic community. It also accused him of breaking his promise to spend millions of dollars on public schools.

Demographics drove the political parties to Orlando. Central Florida is home to a growing number of Hispanics, and no one has a lock on their votes. They could make the difference this year in New Mexico and four states Bush won in 2000 but are considered within the Democrats' grasp: Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and Florida.

"We're seeing an unprecedented amount of attention to court Latino votes," said Rosalind Gold of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund. "Both parties are realizing that Latinos don't march in lockstep and are up for grabs."

With all voters nearly evenly split between the Democratic and Republican parties on presidential politics, swing voters are more highly prized than ever.

Adrian Gaitan of Mansfield is one of them.

"I always vote, but not by party, really. I vote for whoever I think is the best candidate," he said.

The battle for Hispanic votes largely will be fought in a Spanish-language broadcast war that will cost both parties an unprecedented amount of money. It began March 4 when the Bush-Cheney camp began airing ads in Arizona, Florida, Nevada and New Mexico. The Democrats countered the next day in the same states with Spanish-language ads that claimed Bush has not kept his 2000 campaign promise to be a friend of the Hispanic community.

The Democrats' commercials are part of Democratas Unidos, a $5 million project designed by the centrist New Democrat Network that party moderates formed during the Clinton administration.

Jeb Bush is co-chairman of the Republicans' Hispanic project. About a dozen Hispanics will help the president's brother, including Joe Cortez, a popular boxing referee who lives in Las Vegas; former U.S. Treasurer Rosario Marin; Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican who represents a Miami-based district; and former Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan of New Mexico.

Hispanic voters are one of the fastest-growing segments of the electorate. According to the National Council of La Raza, Hispanic voters numbered less than 5 million in 1996, about 6 million in 2000 and about 8 million this year. More immigrants are becoming citizens and more U.S.-born Hispanics are turning 18 and receiving the right to vote.

Attention welcome

Lorenzo Sanchez of Mansfield became a citizen last year and will vote for the first time in November. The attention being paid to Hispanic voters is something he welcomes.

"I think it's a good thing for (the two parties) to do because there are more Hispanics in the country now. It's important for us to be heard," he said.

In 2000, conservative Cuban-Americans in South Florida may have given Bush the edge in that hotly contested state. Hispanic votes also may have been decisive in states like New Mexico, which former Vice President Al Gore won by a mere 366 votes.

In that election, the Gore-Lieberman campaign failed to target Hispanics in a meaningful way, former Clinton press secretary Mike McCurry said. But Bush blanketed commercials in key cities with large Hispanic populations.

"We need to play catch-up," McCurry said. "There are too many Democrats who believe the Hispanic vote is part of their constituency. ... It is not. It is up for grabs."

Hispanics in states with the largest Hispanic populations won't be as important this year as those in states considered battlegrounds for all voters. Bush's home state of Texas already is thought to be in the GOP column, and California and New York generally prefer Democratic presidential candidates.

Adam Segal, director of the Hispanic Voter Project at Johns Hopkins University, said both parties have targeted a select subgroup of Hispanics in battleground states -- moderates that have become increasingly independent of the Democratic Party.

That's why Democrats are using the New Democrat Network to reach out to Hispanics, he said.

"A moderate, centrist message has been the message that has resonated in the Hispanic community among the undecided," Segal said.

According to exit polls, Bush won about 35 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2000, more than any GOP presidential candidate in recent history. He'd like to do better this year.

"Republicans don't have to capture a majority of Latino votes nationwide," said Robert Suro, director of the Pew Hispanic Center. "For them, it's a matter of incremental gains."

Loyalty may last

Suro said the fight for Hispanic voters isn't limited to this year's elections because the Hispanic community's explosive growth may determine which party holds the edge in government for the next few decades.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Hispanic Democrat who is on Kerry's short list of vice presidential candidates and is popular with Hispanics especially in the West, said Bush "has an appeal that needs to be countered."

Richardson has made the battleground states of Arizona, Florida, Nevada and New Mexico a priority. To target Hispanic voters in those states and possibly Colorado, Richardson has raised about $1 million -- and hopes to raise another million dollars -- in a special political action committee called Moving America Forward.

Richardson, who will have a high profile role as co-chairman of the Democratic convention this summer, said Democrats need to counter Bush's appeal with a moderate message that focuses on home ownership, entrepreneurship and education -- much the same message the Bush-Cheney camp is using.

"Our appeal to Hispanic voters can't be just on the issues of affirmative action and civil rights," he said.

News Journal reporter David Benson contributed to this report.

Can Hispanic Voters Make The Difference For Bush, Kerry?


May 9, 2004
Copyright © 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

LORAIN, Ohio (AP) - If Ohio becomes the sharply contested Florida of the 2004 presidential election, the growing Hispanic vote often concentrated in Democratic cities but conservative-leaning could be pivotal.

"Democrats and Republicans are out there really trying to woo that Latino vote," said Richard Romero, a Democratic activist in this blue-collar community 25 miles west of Cleveland.

"They are hoping Ohio could be that close that if it's 100,000 Hispanics that come out and 80 percent vote Democratic, we could be the decisive factor in Ohio," Romero said.

Nationally, Al Gore won 62 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2000 to George Bush's 35 percent.

In Ohio, Bush won by 165,000 votes overall or just 3.6 percentage points over Gore. While Ohio has a relatively small Hispanic population, it offers 20 electoral votes -- equal to the total of closely contested Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada, with Hispanic populations ranging from 20 percent to 40 percent.

No Republican has been elected president without carrying Ohio.

Voter registration figures aren't kept by race or ethnicity. The Census Bureau estimates registration at 47,000, or 45 percent, among Ohio Hispanics, who number about 217,000, or 1.9 percent of the state population. The statewide registration level is about 85 percent, according to the secretary of state, which said the census' Hispanic registration estimate may be low.

Adam Segal, who is leading a Hispanic vote study at Johns Hopkins University, said both President Bush and presumptive Democratic nominee John Kerry appear determined to raise their share of the Hispanic vote.

"In a close election that comes down to tens of thousands of votes, it's conceivable that an aggressive get-out-the-vote effort in the Hispanic community by either party can help turn the outcome," Segal said. "That's the case across the country."

The number of registered Hispanic voters increased 20 percent from 1996 to 2000 and the number of voters is expected to increase by 2 million this year, according to the National Council of La Raza, an advocacy group.

Xavier Fuentes, 23, a married father of three in Lorain, reflects the Hispanic voter challenge for Bush and Kerry: Fuentes is Democrat to the core but hasn't voted since he moved from Puerto Rico four years ago.

"I really don't have time to vote," Fuentes said outside a grocery catering to Hispanic tastes.

Fuentes, who works as a supervisor in a plant that paints auto parts, said he voted several times before moving from Puerto Rico, where Election Day is a holiday and the turnout averages 83 percent. When Puerto Ricans move to the mainland, their voter turnout rate drops below 40 percent, the government of Puerto Rico said.

Fuentes blames Bush for "prolonging the situation in Iraq" but doesn't know much about Kerry. As for how he might vote, "I'll probably talk to my wife and see what she thinks," he said.

David G. Arredondo, Lorain County chairman of the Bush campaign, said appealing to shared American values is more useful when campaigning among Hispanics than focusing on issues like bilingual education and immigration.

"Certainly we don't want to be ignored as a community, but there's a fine line between pandering and hearing what we want to hear," said Arredondo, a Mexican-American born in Lorain.

He said the GOP may have an advantage on some issues that appeal to Hispanics, who are often conservative and Roman Catholic, including opposition to abortion and support for small businesses and tax cuts.

Romero agreed that the Hispanic community should not be painted as a like-minded voting bloc. "I have two brothers who vote Republican because of the abortion issue," he said.

The Bush campaign's overtures to the Hispanic community include Spanish-language surrogate speakers and press materials fed to Spanish radio, television and newspapers and specialized programs such as $5 per-person fund-raising parties and a campaign-sponsored soccer tournament.

Kerry campaign efforts include rallies with Hispanic food and dancing and reliance on Democratic allies with Hispanic ties, including unions backing a push to sign up 500,000 Hispanic voters in the battleground states of Arizona, Florida, New Mexico and Nevada.

David Flores, 51, a school maintenance union leader and former Democratic city councilman, said Bush's standing in Lorain has been hurt over concern about the Iraq war, veterans benefits and health-care costs.

"Right now there's a lot of animosity toward Bush because of programs being cut," said Flores, who agreed that it was challenging getting some Hispanics to vote.

"They come to the mainland (from Puerto Rico) and all of a sudden they are: `We don't need to vote. We don't know what's going on.' They think their voice is not going to be heard," Flores said.

Flores said voter registration drives among Hispanics are a regular feature of civic events and festivals in Lorain neighborhoods where Spanish-run businesses exist near ethnic churches built by earlier Slovak, Hungarian and Polish immigrants.

Max Contreras, 34, who lives in the Cleveland suburb of Strongsville, has taken a more direct route to encourage Hispanic activism. He has poured through Hispanic-sounding names on GOP primary voting lists, writing to hundreds over the past two years.

"We thank them for voting Republican and ask if they would like more information," said Contreras, an occupational therapist born in the Dominican Republic. About 500 people got notes from him, and 20 percent asked for more information.

Contreras said Democrats have a unique advantage: Many Hispanic immigrants associate U.S. democracy with the label Democrat and may conclude that other parties lack democratic values.

But he said the GOP can find fertile ground with Hispanics, who often come to America with a homegrown distaste for big government, taxes and anything that smacks of socialism.

"We came to this country to improve our lives," he said. "We want to achieve the American dream."

Both sides can be hopeful, said Segal with Johns Hopkins. "Both of these candidates have the potential to appeal to Latinos," he said.


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