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George P., John Q.: GOP Dream Team…Quiñones Getting His Spotlight Moment As A Republican Player

George P., John Q.: GOP Dream Team

Myriam Marquez

September 1, 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE ORLANDO SENTINEL. All rights reserved.

NEW YORK -- At Boricua City, a little Puerto Rican store just a few blocks from the GOP lovefest, no one knows John Quiñones from a NASA scientist. In this town, a Puerto Rican Republican is almost as rare as an alligator sunning in the Hudson.

But not in the Sunshine State, where independent-minded Puerto Ricans delivered for Jeb Bush and elected Quiñones two years ago in a predominantly Democratic district in Florida's own ground zero, along the Interstate 4 corridor.

Republicans didn't come here to take the Empire State. They want to secure Florida, New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada -- among 10 swing states where the votes of Cubans, Mexicans or Puerto Ricans could make or break George W. Bush. On "compassion for the people" day, it was all "Viva Bush!" with John Q. taking the stage Tuesday at Madison Square Garden before George P. talked up his Tio George.

Yeah, that George P. The just-married son of Jeb, who at a Tuesday afternoon pep talk quipped to a room packed with Hispanic Republicans: "I don't think people are born Republican or Democrat -- unless you're a member of the Bush family."

Two years ago Quiñones made history as the first Republican Puerto Rican elected to serve in Tallahassee from Central Florida. If he keeps his seat in November, he will be poised to jump into key leadership posts. But first, he needs to deliver for W.

For his part, George P. knows just how important that Puerto Rican vote will be. He began his speech by thanking the Puerto Rican delegates and elected officials at the "Viva Bush!" event: "We have been able to gain a lot of endorsements from Puerto Rico, which is very critical for this campaign."

George P.'s Mexican roots count out West, but in Florida it's the Cubans and Puerto Ricans who carry the load on Election Day. George P. pointed out that his father has "been able to transcend all communities," winning the Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican and Dominican vote in the governor's 2002 re-election. With the Cuban-American vote expected to come out in force for W. -- even if the administration's tough new travel restrictions to Cuba remain a sore point with some Cuban exiles -- the Orlando area's Puerto Rican vote becomes that much more important.

Quiñones, a lawyer who reminds people he grew up in a "humble town" in Puerto Rico before moving to Orlando as a teenager, believes the president can win over Central Florida's Hispanic votes, which Al Gore took in 2000. "The traditional Hispanic values of hard work, commitment to family and to country" align well with Bush's theme of compassionate conservatism, he said.

No doubt the polls indicate Bush is making inroads, state by state, while John Kerry seems to be losing ground among Hispanic voters in critical swing states. Kerry surely holds a majority of the Hispanic vote nationwide, but on Election Day, only each state's count matters.

Nancy Acevedo, a Longwood delegate, says the issues most important to Hispanic voters aren't any different than those that rank high among all voters: a strong economy, affordable health care and good schools. The Republican approach, Acevedo believes, "offers people more choices and less government. "

Massey Villareal, chairman of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly, predicts Bush will win because the president's tax-cut policies are helping small businesses and connecting with working people. "Hispanics are opening businesses five times faster than any other Americans," said Villareal, who runs a high-tech company in Texas.

Still, all this hype about Bush policies offering a leg up begs the question: Do people forced to work two jobs to survive in Florida's low-wage service economy have any choice at all?

Quiñones Getting His Spotlight Moment As A Republican Player

Mark Pino

September 5, 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE ORLANDO SENTINEL. All rights reserved.

Live from New York City and Madison Square Garden, it's Kissimmee's own state representative, John Quiñones!

John "Q" was in the spotlight Tuesday night, introducing George P. Bush at the Republican National Convention.

Does it get any better than this when you're running for re-election?

That kind of opportunity is a career highlight -- and a nifty bonus for Quiñones as he campaigns for re-election.

Putting the Puerto Rico-born Quiñones in the spotlight is an indicator of his power and importance in the GOP. It has been said before, and it will be said again before Nov. 2: "Q" is a key link in efforts to win the Interstate 4 corridor for President Bush and other Republicans. To that end, Quiñones will get plenty of help to keep his House District 49 seat against newcomer Democrat Israel Mercado, who easily dispatched two challengers in last week's primary.

While that was happening, Quiñones was stepping on stage to introduce the son of Gov. Jeb Bush and nephew of the Oval Office's current occupant. The GOP needs the young, photogenic George P. Bush and Quiñones as it tries to reach out to folks who have traditionally not voted, or voted Democratic.

"It was a great honor, and I was just ecstatic about the whole opportunity of speaking," said Quiñones, who noted that "this president is trying to reach out to Hispanics. It's one thing to talk about it and another to do it."

All the GOP photo-ops for Quiñones are OK with Mercado.

"The more he aligns himself with the Republican Party and the current administration the better it is for us," Mercado said. "We want him to have close ties to the president and the administration. It's more of an advantage for us, because Democrats as a whole are very disillusioned."

Expect more center-stage opportunities for both in coming weeks.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., has campaigned for the challenger. And Mercado has already met with Sen. John Edwards when the Democratic vice-presidential candidate stopped in Orlando earlier this summer.

Word was Edwards was going to be stumping in Kissimmee last week. But then along came Hurricane Frances. Insiders are still hopeful about an Edwards visit. Expect to see Mercado at his side if it happens.

"This race is going to get a lot of attention and exposure," Mercado said, adding that Edwards understands the dynamics and importance of the race.

The Democratic Party is already after President Bush, with Spanish ads critiquing the president's economic policies scheduled to start running in Florida and four other states last week, The Associated Press reported.

Two years ago Quiñones was in the right place, though few believed it at the time. District 49, which includes parts of Orange County and heavily Hispanic slices of Osceola, was supposed to have belonged to Hispanic Democrats -- especially those with ties to Puerto Rico.

During that campaign much was made of fact that Quiñones' opponent was Nicaraguan. The theory is that some Puerto Rican Democrats crossed parties for Quiñones.

The issue is off the table this year because both candidates have island roots.

Expect Mercado and Quiñones to continue campaigning hard in a race that could come down to the wire.

Quiñones is proud of what he has accomplished in the Legislature -- whether it is because he is working the system or the system recognized the importance of his district and keeping him in office. Either way, he said he votes his conscience and not always with party leadership.

"I'm running my own race," he said. "In a sense it gives me more independence because of the importance of my district."

In a year when Democrats and Republicans are heavily courting Hispanics, you can expect Quiñones and Mercado to get more time on the red carpet than Uma Thurman and Jennifer Lopez get at the Oscars or the Grammys.

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