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Camps Reaching Out To Hispanic Voters…Hispanic Voters Recruited

Camps Reaching Out To Hispanic Voters


September 2, 2004
Copyright © 2004 The Arkansas Democrat Gazette. All rights reserved.

NEW YORK - Ephrain Valdez grinned as he watched the crowd packed onto the floor of Madison Square Garden for the Republican National Convention. "Look at all the different people here," Valdez said as he pointed to "Viva Bush" signs held up by scattered delegates. "This is just great to see. ... I'm like a kid in a candy store."

Valdez, a delegate from Conway, Ark., is one of the faces the Republican Party has been bragging about during its gathering this week. Touting Hispanic entertainers and offering press briefings in Spanish, the GOP is emphasizing its efforts to woo Hispanic voters - like Valdez.

President Bush captured only a fraction of the vote of minority-group members in his 2000 race against Democrat Al Gore. Today, the Republican Party says its convention delegates are the most ethnically diverse in history.

More than 800 of the 4,853 delegates and alternates at the convention - 17 percent - are members of racial or ethnic minority groups, according to the Republican National Committee. That's a 10 percent increase from four years ago.

Hispanics, a group the party has been courting for years, comprise the largest minority group with 297 delegates in New York.

The Arkansas delegation has five Hispanics among its 35 delegates, or 14 percent. The state's 47-member delegation to the Democratic National Convention in Boston last month had only one Hispanic member.

About 3 percent of the state's population, or 86,866 residents, are Hispanic, according to 2000 data from the U.S Census Bureau.

Valdez, chairman of the Faulkner County Republican Party and a first-time delegate, said higher numbers of Hispanic delegates reflect outreach efforts of national and state party organizations.

"We've got stalwarts in the Hispanic community and we're working together," Valdez said. "A lot of the grass-roots efforts led to this."

Delegates say the GOP's Hispanic base is growing because Hispanics share conservative views on many wedge issues, including gay marriage and abortion.

They also cite leadership positions given to Hispanics in the party and the Bush administration. Valdez, along with delegates Bob Trevino and Frieda Tirado, also of Little Rock, are among the 10 Arkansans who served on the convention's rules, platform and credentials committees.

Tirado, who was born in Puerto Rico, was invited to sit in Vice President Dick Cheney's box during Wednesday night's program, which featured Cheney as a prime-time speaker.

"They're putting us into positions where we have a greater presence and even more leverage," Tirado said. "They're doing it in a way the Democrats never have."

Trevino, an adviser to Gov. Mike Huckabee, has made stops at several events in New York aimed at Hispanic voters, including a "Viva Bush" rally.

Arkansas, which was chosen earlier this year as the future home of a Mexican consulate, is witnessing a growing Hispanic population that is becoming active on both ends of the political spectrum, delegates said. "It's about our population and our growth," said Lucy Ralston, a delegate from Fayetteville who was born in Colombia. "There a lot of people like me who want to know what's out there and what the government has to offer."

The fifth Hispanic member of the Arkansas delegation is Ernesto Diaz of Fayetteville.

A co-chairman of Bush's state re-election campaign, Trevino served as the state director of the League of United Latin American Citizens for six years. He was voted out of that position earlier in a secret ballot this year at the advocacy group's annual meeting.

Trevino says he was ousted for his party affiliation, but LULAC officials say it had nothing to do with politics.

Trevino said President Bush's plan to overhaul the immigration system could attract even more Hispanics to the GOP. The party's platform, approved at the convention this week, supports Bush's proposal to provide temporary worker status to illegal immigrants, giving them the same employee benefits due the legally employed.

The White House estimated about 8 million illegal aliens are in the United States, more than half from Mexico.

Arkansas has seen a dramatic rise in its illegal immigrant population.

In 2000, roughly 27,000 illegal aliens lived in Arkansas, compared with about 5,000 a decade earlier, according to federal estimates.

"Why not let the people who want to come here and simply better their lives have an opportunity at the American Dream?" Trevino said. "We have to recognize that immigration, safe and legal immigration, has to occur. Immigrants are a part of our economy and our society."

Ron Oliver, chairman of the Arkansas Democratic Party, said he didn't believe his party was at a disadvantage when it comes to diversity.

He pointed out that the state Democratic delegation had 15 black delegates and alternates in Boston. The Republicans only have one.

"It seems to be overwhelmingly white," Oliver said. "I'll put the diversity of the Democratic delegation up against theirs any day."

Hispanic Voters Recruited

More than 100 canvassers are on the hunt for prize targets in battleground Florida: Hispanics still not registered to vote.


September 5, 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE MIAMI HERALD. All rights reserved.

She can't vote because she's not a citizen.

But Claudia Venegas, a Peruvian, is out in the streets of South Florida nearly every day, relentlessly trying to convince people to register and vote in the Nov. 2 election.

''It's so hard, many people don't want to be bothered,'' said Venegas, 28, who nonetheless claims to have signed up more than 500 voters in the past two months.

Venegas is one of about 120 volunteer and paid canvassers working for a voter-registration drive targeting Florida Hispanics who have not registered to cast ballots -- a prized pool of potential voters who may well decide a close election.

A poll conducted for the group recently determined that about one-third of Hispanic U.S. citizens in Florida, about 400,000 people, are not registered to vote.

Mi Familia Vota, My Family Votes, a project of the liberal People for the American Way Foundation, claims that since February its canvassers have registered about 40,000 voters. The goal: at least 50,000.

The $1.7 million drive has been billed as nonpartisan, and canvassers do not try to influence would-be voters. But program leaders link the drive to a broader message for change.

The Democratic Party in Miami-Dade County does not endorse Mi Familia Vota.

Chairman Ray Zeller says: ``We have heard of the group and don't have anything to do with it. We certainly don't criticize what they do, because we also want to encourage the Hispanic vote.''

Miami-Dade Republican Party Chairman Mary Ellen Miller said her party does not have a similar focused voter registration drive in South Florida.

Jorge Mursuli, Mi Familia Vota national director and Florida director for People for the American Way Foundation, said the voter registration drive is nonpartisan and that references to ''change'' were a tactic to draw young voters.

''When you're dealing with youth, the way to get to this is to talk about change,'' Mursuli said. ``That's the kind of thing that they, most of the time, welcome.''

Mursuli spoke Wednesday after a media event at the Wolfson Campus of Miami Dade College in downtown Miami where he urged students to register to vote.

It was the first day of classes.

In his speech, Mursuli linked the 2000 Florida ballot debacle to the Mi Familia Vota drive.

''Does anybody remember how many votes it took to become president of the United States in 2000?'' Mursuli began. ``Five hundred and thirty seven votes, and we've already registered 40,000.''

Alfredo Balsera, a consultant working with Mi Familia Vota, said organization logs showed the group had registered that many new voters since the eight-month drive began in February.

Jeff Garcia, a spokesman for Mi Familia Vota, said that of the 40,000 about 30 percent signed up as independent and 35 percent each as Democrat or Republican.

Canvassers such Venegas, who get $10 an hour, go door to door in neighborhoods or person to person at events such as the one at MDC and pose one question.

''Are you registered to vote?'' Venegas asked a young woman, one of thousands hurrying across a sprawling plaza between college buildings. Most brushed her off.

''No,'' replied Sandra Nieves, 20, a Miami Cuban-American majoring in biology. Nieves agreed to let Venegas register her, filling out the required form.

After Nieves signed, she said she was undecided about whom to vote for.

Another student who signed up was certain about her choice.

''Obviously, John Kerry. Compared to Bush, I think my left sock would be better,'' said Janisse Rivera, 20, of Puerto Rico, who is studying to be a paramedic.

Venegas said one of her best days signing up voters was Aug. 10 after a giant naturalization ceremony at the Miami Beach Convention Center.

''I registered 33 people,'' Venegas recalled.

The canvassers' headquarters at 2915 Biscayne Blvd. resembles a campaign ``war room.''

Walls are covered with detailed maps of Miami-Dade, singling out neighborhoods that have been canvassed or still need to be visited -- and with posters of civic determination.

''Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,'' says one.

Voltaire is quoted in another: ``I disapprove of what you say -- but I will defend to the death your right to say it.''

A typical workday goes noon to 8 p.m.

On a recent afternoon, the Mi Familia Vota bus, carrying six canvassers, headed to a leafy neighborhood in Kendall. Most people were either not home or unable to register either because they were not citizens or because they already had registered.

Only a single registration was harvested all morning.

Sal Hernández, of Puerto Rico, said he has never voted.

He registered Republican because ``everything is going well in the country.''

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