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Every 4 Years, The Anglos Return - Latinos And The Election…Latino Voters Have Yet To Become A Strong Force… Battle Heats For The West's Hispanic Votes

Every Four Years, The Anglos Return - Latinos And The Election

July 3, 2004
Copyright © 2004 The Economist Newspaper Limited, London 2004. All rights reserved.

Both parties need them. But what has either done for Latinos lately?

"SI, SE puede. Yes, it can be done." If America's 40m Latinos dislike being patronised by Anglo politicians who throw a few words of Spanish into their standard platitudes, their leaders did not show it during John Kerry's speech in Phoenix to the National Council of La Raza (NCLR). The nation's biggest Latino organisation cheered.

The campaign wisdom is that, in an agonisingly close election, the Latino vote will be the difference between victory and defeat. Even Democrats admit that George Bush has the kind of personal "comfort level" with Latinos that Bill Clinton so famously enjoyed with blacks. In the 2000 election, Mr Bush's 35% share of the Latino vote was the highest for a Republican candidate since the 37% won by Ronald Reagan in his 1984 re-election. This time round the president's campaign-managers dream, not implausibly, of 40%. As Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico (and bilingual son of a Mexican mother), recently admitted, "the problem with Democrats is that sometimes they take our people for granted."

Mr Richardson's warning is timely. Although Latinos have traditionally voted 2:1 for Democrats, they share plenty of the values preached by the Republican Party: self-reliance, the family, religious belief, the work ethic and opposition to abortion. Moreover, according to a Zogby poll commissioned by the NCLR for its Phoenix convention, some 74% of Latinos will consider "a candidate's relationship with the Hispanic community and record on Hispanic issues" when deciding how to vote.

That might not matter in solidly Republican Texas or solidly Democratic California, even though Latinos make up a third of the population in both states. But the Zogby finding could be crucial in several "battleground" states.

In New Mexico, for example, where 43% of the population is Latino, Mr Bush lost to Al Gore in 2000 by just 366 votes; in Oregon, with 55,000 registered Latino voters, Mr Bush lost by fewer than 7,000 votes; in Washington state, where the Latino population doubled during the 1990s to around 8% of the population, Mr Gore's winning margin was only five percentage points; and in Iowa, where 3% of the population is Latino, Mr Bush's share of the 2000 vote was just one percentage point less than Mr Gore's. Most important of all, given its 27 electoral-college votes, could be Florida, where 17% of the residents are Latino and Mr Bush's margin was a fraction of a percentage point.

So what are "Hispanic issues"? Usually the same as anyone else's. Top of the list in the Zogby poll is education, chosen as the most important issue by 34% of the sample; next comes the economy and jobs, chosen by 22%. Immigration, traditionally the most Latino issue of all, comes third, chosen by 8% of the sample (with most Latinos strongly favouring a generous welcome to newcomers).

In theory, Mr Bush has nothing to fear on these issues. The 2002 No Child Left Behind Act, for example, was specifically designed to help disadvantaged children. That surely includes Latinos: only 73% of Latinos between 16 and 24 have graduated from high school, compared with 89% of blacks and 93% of whites. Similarly, Mr Bush can point to an improving economy and to his call in January for reforming the immigration system to give temporary documentation to illegal immigrants.

In practice, however, Mr Bush may be fretting. The No Child Left Behind Act has so far done nothing to improve Latino test-scores. Indeed, some say that its emphasis on testing actually discriminates against Latino children. As to the improving economy, it may be improving a bit too late and a lot too unequally to win the votes of Latinos who were already near the bottom of the economic pile, with an average household income of just $33,103 in 2002, compared with $46,900 for white households and $29,026 for black ones.

As Mr Kerry told his Phoenix audience, "In the last three years, Hispanic-American unemployment has soared more than 30%...and millions and millions of hardworking Hispanics who have jobs aren't getting paid enough to pay the bills." Add a Kerry blast at outsourcing and tax-breaks for the super-rich, plus a pledge to provide health insurance for almost everyone (a third of Latinos have no cover, compared with 15% for Americans overall) and Mr Bush may well feel discomfited.

Mr Bush's most vulnerable point may well be immigration. His January proposals were just that–proposals, with no legislative follow-up. While they aroused the fury of anti-immigrant Republicans such as Tom Tancredo, a Colorado congressman who suspected a path to amnesty, they disappointed Latino leaders because they opened up the possibility of deportation.

Mr Kerry says that as president he would send to Congress within 100 days a bill offering legalisation to long-staying, tax-paying illegal immigrants, helping family reunification and providing a path to permanent residence or citizenship. He would also approve laws to grant legal status to undocumented farm workers, and a bill to allow some 65,000 high-school graduates, illegally resident in America, first to go to college with the same fees or aid as their legal peers and then to achieve citizenship. Given that this week the Border Patrol, straying far from its normal terrain, was rounding up illegal immigrants in places around Los Angeles, Mr Kerry's stance resonated at the NCLR.

Disloyal Democrats

But will his promises be enough to keep Latinos reliably Democratic? The Latino vote seems to be particularly volatile. For instance, after Saddam Hussein was captured in December 2003, the proportion of Latinos saying they would vote for Mr Bush jumped ten points to 37% in the Pew Hispanic Centre's poll; the figure for the "Democratic candidate" (Mr Kerry was not named back then) fell nine points, to 47%. Moreover, the very diversity of Latinos makes their loyalty complicated. They identify with lands of origin from Chile to El Salvador, Puerto Rico (whose population are citizens by right) and Cuba. And any number of foreign-policy decisions can affect their opinions.

Two in three Latinos, however, are of Mexican origin. Hence Mr Bush's wooing of Mexico's president, Vicente Fox, and Mr Kerry's pledge to work together with Mexico and to set up a Clintonian-sounding "Community of the Americas". But many Latinos are illegal, and so voteless, others are not even registered and their Democratic loyalty is no longer total.

In California's election to recall the governor last year, 30% of Latinos voted for Arnold Schwarzenegger, and another 9% for another Republican, Tom McClintock–even though they were running against a Latino Democrat, Cruz Bustamante. Meanwhile, in Florida, the Cuban population is reliably Republican (helped by Mr Bush's toughening of anti-Castro restrictions) and the non-Cuban Latinos are warming to Governor Jeb Bush, the president's brother.

In the end, the Latino influence in November may depend on the turnout: given their (slight) preference for voting Democratic, the more they vote, the better it will be for Mr Kerry. The NCLR reckons some 7.9m Latinos may actually vote this year (7% of the likely turnout), compared with 5.9m in 2000 (6%).

Hardly a dramatic difference (and other forecasters reckon the Latino figure this year will be below 7m). But with each election, the Latinos are wooed ever more aggressively. But they have yet to turn that allure into political clout. As one delegate to the NCLR put it, "We've grown cynical of government, and of both parties." He compares Anglo politicians to the chupacabra, a mythical Mexican goat-killing monster that emerges every now and then to suck the blood of its victims.

Latino Voters Have Yet To Become A Strong Force


July 28, 2004
Copyright © 2004
Newsday. All rights reserved.

Despite their efforts to count on the Latino vote, when the Democrats announced the list of speakers for the Boston convention, there was only one Latino on it. Rep. Robert Menendez of New Jersey earnestly spoke on Monday night about John Kerry's foreign policy positions.

"The message John Kerry will send to Latin America," Menendez, the highest ranking Latino in the House, told the delegates, "is different from the one Latin America and Latinos here in the United States have heard from President Bush."

But for most Latinos, having a Cuban-American talk about foreign policy, no less Cuba, probably didn't resonate.

Despite all of the attention that the 5 percent of the country's voters who are Latino has received this year from the two major political parties and the media, what is not clear is whether there is a realistic understanding of what the Latino community wants. This is the case despite the fact that there have been more opinion polls of Latinos this year than ever before, as well as record-setting amounts of money being spent on political advertising to this group of possibly 6 million potential voters.

But when all is said and done, the Latino community nationally will vote overwhelmingly for the Democratic candidate for president. The only issue is whether the Republicans can hold onto or improve on their 2000 election's 35-percent share of the Latino voters. The Iraqi war is opposed by the majority of Latinos (56 percent in the latest poll), and probably by a much higher percentage of Latinos in the Northeast and Midwest. As Menendez said Monday night, "We need a president who understands the difference between a war of choice and a war of necessity." If the war situation deteriorates, that will hurt the president's chances among these voters.

The Democrats can't afford to look like they're taking the Latino vote for granted because this could reduce the level of Latino turnout. Low-voter turnout, a long-term problem for this community, can undo whatever advantage the Democrats have with this group. So, symbolic things, like making New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson the convention chair, become important and are politically safe. After all, how many people can name the chairmen of the conventions, anyway?

The Latino vote can be taken for granted by the Democrats because the Latino leadership in the party and in national politics in general is so weak and fragmented. In effect, there is no leadership in the Latino community capable of holding the Democratic or Republican parties accountable to their community. What you have instead is a group of Latino career politicians whose interests are more tied with the parties they belong to than the communities they represent. There are a few exceptions, but these people are not really taken seriously outside their own districts.

For those Latino voters who are eligible to vote (that is, who are citizens), the Democrats' attempt to project greater support for Latino immigrants than the Republicans probably won't make much of a difference. For Bush, his problematic immigration proposal, which was not even embraced by his own party, is probably more of a negative with Latinos because he couldn't deliver on it.

When one looks at the Democratic Party platform, for example, it is interesting to see issues regarding race relations and civil rights buried way in the back. Mexican-American leaders are pushing immigration issues, and Puerto Ricans are pushing issues relating to Puerto Rico (like the clean-up of Vieques), which are important but not central to the national policy discourse. With the average Latino voter, they just don't seem to have as much salience as schools and jobs do. And then, of course, you have Rep. Menendez pushing the Cuban embargo at the convention, which most Latinos couldn't care less about.

Although Latinos are concerned about education, the economy, crime, the war, national security and other issues just like most Americans, the difference is that they see themselves excluded from the decision-making process. That's why there was all this concern throughout the past year about the lack of Latinos in policy-making positions within the Kerry campaign and in the Democratic Party.

For Latinos, the critical issue is whether they emerge from this election as real players or remain relegated to the margins of American politics. Whether Kerry wins the White House or not, the next stage in the political empowerment of Latinos will have to include a movement to make the Democratic Party more accountable to these 40 million Americans of Latino descent. Or perhaps Latinos will need to invent another way to make themselves heard politically in this country.

Angelo Falcon, a political scientist who teaches at Columbia University, is the senior policy executive at the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund in New York City. The views herein are his own and not necessarily those of his institution.

Battle Heats For The West's Hispanic Votes

Hispanics make up 15 percent of Colo. voters

By Deborah Baker, Associated Press

August 16, 2004
Copyright © 2004
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SANTA FE, N.M. – It's lunchtime outside a convenience store, on the front lines of the war for the Hispanic vote.

Clipboard in hand, Yolanda Maez assesses the steady stream of customers intent on filling their gas tanks and their stomachs.

"Excuse me, are you registered to vote?" Maez asks a dark-haired young woman teetering toward the door in high-heeled sandals.

Yes, the woman replies, and then laughs: "I did it outside the grocery store, actually."

Maez, a 26-year-old single mother and a former waitress, spends upward of 40 hours a week at stores, cafes, hamburger stands, skateboard parks, fairs, – wherever people gather – mining the crowd as a paid worker for Moving America Forward, the political committee founded by Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico.

With polls pointing to a tight race between Republican President Bush and Democrat John Kerry, the votes of Hispanics – the fastest-growing minority group in the nation – are considered crucial by both parties.

That's particularly true in the so-called battleground states in the West such as New Mexico, where Democrat Al Gore defeated Bush four years ago by just 366 votes.

Moving America Forward's registration effort, aimed at shoring up the Democratic vote, is targeting New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada and Florida – the same states in which the Bush campaign is advertising in Spanish.

The committee expects to register about 150,000 new voters by the Nov. 2 general election and Maez estimates she's already contributed 300 of those. Today is slow, however: Lots of people already registered, lots of noncitizens can't, a handful of tourists are from out of state, a few people adamantly are not interested.

Hispanics account for nearly 39 percent of the voting-age population in New Mexico, 21 percent in Arizona, nearly 17 percent in Nevada, 16 percent in Florida, and nearly 15 percent in Colorado, according to U.S. Census figures from 2000.

Moving America Forward – which has spent more than $1 million on the effort – is focusing on places where the number of Hispanic citizens of voting age is burgeoning, but registration hasn't kept up.

That includes southern Miami, the Denver metropolitan area, Henderson and North Las Vegas in Nevada – two of the fastest-growing communities in the country – and New Mexico's three urban areas, Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Santa Fe. In Arizona, the project is signing up voters in Phoenix and Tucson, those cities' suburbs, and in some border areas.

Some 86,000 new voters have been registered, according to Daniel Sena, the committee's national field director. While most of the new voters in New Mexico, Colorado and Florida have registered as Democrats, roughly half in Arizona and Nevada have registered without selecting a party, Sena said.

Democrats have good reason to want to register Hispanics: A recent poll by the Pew Hispanic Center and the Kaiser Family Foundation showed Kerry with a 2-to-1 lead over Bush among Hispanic voters.

Republicans, however, are not ceding any ground, contending that the president's positions are more in line with those of Hispanic voters than Kerry's – and they just need to get that message across.

The volunteer-based "Viva Bush" grassroots effort has been organizing neighborhood meetings, voter registration drives, phone banks and door-to-door visits.

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