Esta página no está disponible en español.
THE ORLANDO SENTINEL
Juan-Come-Lately Takes Hispanics For Granted
May 16, 2004
Democrats, hoping to energize the Hispanic vote nationwide for John Kerry, are holding a big powwow in Orlando to strategize with party activists and political leaders from 20 or so states. So where's the star of the show?
Though the presumptive Democratic nominee for president was pitching his health-care vision at Orlando's Englewood community center just a few days ago, he's not scheduled to be at the Dems' Hispanic Summit this weekend. What a missed opportunity.
"It shows insensitivity on the campaign's part," said Ken McClintock, Puerto Rico's Senate Minority Leader, who is among 300 Latino activists and others attending the Democratic National Committee's Hispanic Leadership Summit in Orlando. McClintock, who is pro-statehood, thinks Kerry simply isn't getting good advice about the differences among Hispanic groups. Cubans, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and other Latinos have common concerns no different than those of other Americans, including the need for better jobs, education and health care. But there are important distinctions and nuances even within each group that can make or break a candidate.
A candidate who understands those nuances can capture ever-important crossover votes, as Republican Jeb Bush has done both times he has run for governor.
"Probably no politician in the states knows Puerto Rico like Jeb Bush does," McClintock said Thursday. "He knows what ticks in Puerto Rico, and he has demonstrated it every time he's run. I'm concerned that Kerry hasn't discovered that."
Of course, Jeb has backed the statehood position, like his brother, the president, but he has done it carefully, turning the issue into a populist one in which Puerto Ricans, and not Washington, deserve to decide their destiny.
The Bush boys understand the nuances. They get it -- the Dems keep struggling to find it.
State Rep. John Quiñones, a Puerto Rican Republican who won two years ago in a heavily Democratic district, knows a candidate has to play the island-status question delicately. "We have enough concerns here," than to worry about island politics, he told me last week. Still, his own district's growing independent streak -- with one in five voters not registered with either party -- showcases the "key swing voters" who will be at the epicenter of the 2004 battle.
In Puerto Rico, after all, the parties concentrate on the status issue -- they don't identify with either the GOP or the Dems. The current administration of Sila Calderon, which is pro commonwealth, has started a stateside voter-registration drive that seeks to give voice to Puerto Ricans, particularly those new to the mainland. Calderon has upset some Democrats here, such as Evelyn Rivera, who helped form the new Puerto Rican Democratic Caucus in Florida, because Calderon seems too cozy with Republican governors in New York and Florida during campaign years. That's one of those nuanced points that Kerry should understand if he's to navigate through the turbulent waters of Puerto Rico status.
True, Kerry's Hispanic support in the polls is strong nationwide, even in Central Florida, but the number of swing voters here signals Kerry's support is mushy at best, and President George W. Bush hasn't missed an opportunity to break into that mushy middle. In fact, Bush's campaign has spent millions of dollars already in television and radio ads to court the Latino vote in key swing states, including Florida and New Mexico, while Kerry has spent little to nothing.
Even the chairman of the DNC's Hispanic Caucus has expressed concern about the Kerry campaign's Juan-come-lately approach. "The reality is that we're entering May and the Kerry campaign has no message out there to the Hispanic community, nor has there been any inkling of any reach-out effort in any state to the Hispanic electorate, at least with any perceivable sustainable strategy in mind," Alvaro Cifuentes wrote in an e-mail to Dems that was leaked to the New York Times recently. "It is no secret that the word of mouth in the Beltway and beyond is not that he does not get it; it is that he does not care."
And the complaining isn't coming solely from Hispanic leaders. Black Democrats, too, have said they fear the Massachusetts senator is taking their support for granted, at his peril.
That the King of Nuance would miss the nuances among and within Latino groups speaks loads about the Democrats' struggle to define their party for the average Jose and Josefina.