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State Hispanic Vote Could Make Difference… Winning Hispanic Votes Is Tricky For Bush, Kerry

State Hispanic Vote Could Make Difference

By SERGIO BUSTOS, Gannett News Service, and MATTHEW BENSON

August 30, 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE COLORADOAN. All rights reserved.

Save for a few key states, Hispanics could become the forgotten voters of the 2004 presidential campaign.

That's because the race to the White House has boiled down to 20 so-called battleground states, where Hispanic voters are few and far between.

Colorado, however, might be one of the few exceptions.

Colorado is among only five contested states where Hispanics represent more than 9 percent of the voters, and most polls show the race close between President Bush and Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry.

The other states where Hispanics could play a vital role are Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and Florida. White voters dominate many of the other battleground states -- the places where Bush and Kerry have spent the most resources and time campaigning.

"It's going to be a white-determined election," said Bill Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution think tank who has analyzed Hispanic voting data collected by the Census Bureau.

He found that white voters make up 86 percent of all voters in the battleground states, while Hispanic voters remain largely concentrated in states that already are considered safe bets for Bush or Kerry.

Indeed, Bush is expected to easily win his home state of Texas, which has 22 percent of the nation's Hispanic voters.

And Kerry is believed to have locked up California, New York and Illinois, which combined represent 39 percent of all Hispanic voters.

"While American politics may be on the verge of becoming Latino politics, this time around the fight for the White House is likely to play out on more traditional terms," Frey said.

That said, this year Hispanic voting numbers are expected to reach nearly 7 million nationwide, up from 5.9 million in 2000, according to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. In 2000, just 45 percent of eligible Hispanics voted, which was the same percentage in Colorado.

Hispanics are expected to play an important role in Colorado and the other four states. The key is to translate that potential voting bloc into significant ballots cast on Election Day, said Rich Salas, assistant director of Colorado State University's El Centro Student Services.

"We've got to get people out to vote," he said. "We can't just sit back like we have in the past."

It's not just an issue for the presidential race. Colorado has Democratic Attorney General Ken Salazar fighting to become the first Hispanic in the U.S. Senate in 27 years. He's locked in a tight contest with Republican beer magnate Pete Coors.

In the local 4th Congressional District, Democrat Stan Matsunaka also is hoping to tap the Hispanic vote. Hispanics represent 17 percent of registered voters in the district.

Congresswoman Linda S·nchez, D-Calif., campaigned Friday for Matsunaka as she cut Spanish-language radio ads and conducted meet-and-greets with the Hispanic community in Northern Colorado.

The hope, she said, is to stoke the voter turnout for a community whose election participation has for too long lagged behind its true size."The Hispanic vote has the potential to make the difference in Stan's race and in races across the country," S·nchez said.

Although Colorado has been drawing some presidential interest, Lydia Camarillo argued that Bush and Kerry are devoting too little attention to Hispanic voters, especially in battleground states.

"They look at the election being decided by Middle America, but Hispanics could mean the difference in all the swing (competitive) states," said Camarillo, vice president of the nonpartisan Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project. Greeley is among the places the group is focusing on as it tries to boost the Hispanic vote.

Using results of the 2000 election, she points out that Hispanic voters in the battlegrounds of Wisconsin, New Mexico and Oregon could prove decisive in 2004 -- especially for Democrats.

In 2000, former Vice President Al Gore defeated Bush by 5,708 votes in Wisconsin, where 31,000 Hispanics voted. Gore also won by 366 votes in New Mexico, where 191,000 Hispanics voted. And he was victorious in Oregon, where 33,000 Hispanic voters went to the polls. Campaign officials from both parties say no voter -- let alone Hispanic voter -- in any state is being ignored or overlooked.

"They know that there's power in numbers," Salas said. "They know that the race is so close and they can't take any group for granted."

The Bush-Cheney campaign has held fund-raisers with Hispanic groups in Arizona, California, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Washington, said Sharon Castillo, the campaign spokeswoman for Hispanic media.

"When we are holding Hispanic fund-raisers in places like Mississippi, Oklahoma and Utah, I think it tells you how serious we are about reaching out to this community," Castillo said.

The campaign has "Viva Bush!" teams in 30 states and Puerto Rico and has spent more than $1.1 million on Spanish- language media advertising, she said.

"We started our campaign for Hispanic voters earlier than in 2000, and we are devoting more money to winning their support," she said.

Fabiola Rodriguez-Ciampoli, director of Hispanic media for the Kerry-Edwards campaign, said they, too, are paying close attention to Hispanic voters in the swing states.The Democratic campaign is running Spanish-language television, radio and print ads in 10 states, including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington state and Oregon -- all with a small percentage of Hispanic voters.

This month, they dispatched Henry Cisneros, the former housing secretary under President Clinton, to campaign in Wisconsin. He appeared at a series of events in Milwaukee, Madison and Racine.

"He was greeted by about 500 people in Racine alone," said German Trejo, field organizer and Hispanic outreach director for Kerry-Edwards, who said Hispanic members of Congress also are scheduled to visit the state.

But Salas and S·nchez agreed the key for campaigns is to go beyond flashy slogans. In order to win the loyalty -- and votes -- of Hispanics, candidates must address their issues. That means talk about access to higher education and financial aid, high school dropout rates, jobs and unemployment.

"You have to make it real for them," Sanchez said. "You have to connect Washington to their everyday lives."

Winning Hispanic Votes Is Tricky For Bush, Kerry

By Maria T. Padilla | Sentinel Staff Writer

September 19, 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE ORLANDO SENTINEL. All rights reserved.

Millie García was never one to pay close attention to elections. The south Orlandoan has never cast a vote, saying she didn't think she knew the area, the issues or the candidates.

But this year is different.

As a supervisor for Seniors First at Engelwood Neighborhood Center, García, 50, has had a front-row seat to history in the making in recent months.

Hotly in pursuit of the Hispanic vote, President Bush and Democrat John Kerry have visited Engelwood in heavily Hispanic southeast Orlando -- Kerry in May and Bush in November.

"The visits here helped. It really helped," said García, who -- tweaked by a guilty conscience -- registered to vote for the first time this summer. "I regret not voting in 2000. I didn't vote, and it was close," she said.

With this year's presidential election expected to be tight once again, and with the battleground state of Florida seen as vital to both candidates, every vote will count.

Some analysts think that the more than 800,000 Hispanics who are registered to vote in Florida's November election could be a deciding factor, including more than 200,000 swing-voting Latinos in the Interstate 4 corridor.

The nation's more than 8 million Hispanic registered voters are getting unprecedented attention this election year. Millions are being spent on ads and outreach to court this electorate.

"Hispanics represent the largest potential ethnic voting bloc in the U.S.," said Adam Segal, director of the Hispanic Voter Project at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland.

Unequal attention

However, not all Hispanic voters are getting equal attention.

Most Hispanics in the United States live in California, New York and Texas. But unlike Florida, none of these states is considered in play -- they are either heavily Democrat (California and New York) or Republican (Texas).

Florida, on the other hand, is one of five hotly contested states in which Hispanics figure prominently -- Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona are the others.

The fact that Hispanics account for up to 12 percent of Florida voters is not lost on the candidates.

The Bush campaign touts that it has spent more than $1 million on advertising to the Hispanic community since March, which is half of what Bush spent on Hispanic advertising in all of 2000. Campaign officials added that Bush is looking forward to campaigning with U.S. Senate candidate Mel Martínez, a Central Floridian.

The Democrats, meanwhile, talk about having full-time Hispanic outreach and devoting resources to this area that were absent in the past.

Dario Moreno, professor and political analyst at Florida International University in Miami, said that a voting shift of as little as 1 percent may reap an additional 8,000 Florida Hispanic voters for either candidate.

"That's a lot of voters," he said. And in a state that George W. Bush won by 537 votes in the contested 2000 election, those numbers are significant.

Quilt of nationalities

However, Florida's more than 3 million Hispanics are as different from one another as they are different from Latinos in other states.

They are a mosaic of many nationalities, ranging from Republican Cubans in South Florida and Democrat-leaning Puerto Ricans in Central Florida to Mexicans and South Americans in between. There is no monolithic "Hispanic vote," because each group is motivated by different political issues and experiences.

"In Florida, it's now so obvious that this is a population that is highly segmented in ways that has a significant impact on politics," said Roberto Suro, director of the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington. "You can't run a statewide campaign in Florida with the notion that you're only addressing one simple message or segment."

The fragmentation of the Hispanic vote became evident in Florida's past few election cycles.

Cubans backed Bush in 2000, while Puerto Ricans voted for Democrat Al Gore. Then something unexpected happened: Along the I-4 corridor, Hispanics made an about-face in 2002, supporting the re-election of Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, the president's brother.

"If there is a model for why the Hispanic vote is considered a swing electorate in the United States, it would be the Orlando market," said Coral Gables pollster Sergio Bendixen. "The way they voted in 2000 and 2002 is classic."

Split on issues

Florida Hispanics also part ways on most major issues of the day, according to a nationwide Pew Hispanic poll conducted this summer. Cubans and Puerto Ricans have different opinions on everything from the war in Iraq and trust in government to education and the economy.

But the thing that most excites each campaign is that Puerto Rican voters are politically malleable. And that is no small factor, considering that Puerto Ricans make up the majority of the Orlando area's total Hispanic population of 400,000.

Because Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, they are ready-made voters, with immediate access to the ballot box once they register.

Those who moved to Central Florida directly from the island number 40 percent of the region's Puerto Ricans and are especially open to being courted because they haven't developed strong political loyalties on the mainland.

"They came to Orlando probably with a tendency to vote Democrat but then found that in Central Florida, Jeb Bush wanted to be their best friend. He came to their churches, parades, and he spoke Spanish," Bendixen said.

Many Puerto Ricans like the attention and personal appeal. Thus, César Figueroa, 37, who came to Orlando by way of Puerto Rico, thinks President Bush "is more with Hispanics." Said his wife, Nilsa Rodríguez, 38, who registered to vote recently, "He [Bush] has leaned toward Latinos."

Puerto Ricans such as Figueroa and Rodríguez arrived in Florida in time to witness an aggressive Republican Hispanic outreach during the 2000 presidential election, followed by an equally assertive 2002 campaign.

'Grass-roots outreach'

It included visits by island politicians to Central Florida in support of local candidates, such as Republican state Rep. John Quiñones, who claimed victory in a largely Democratic district straddling Orange and Osceola counties.

"As of four years ago, they [Republicans] have developed a grass-roots outreach toward the Hispanic community to get involved in the administration," Quiñones said.

Segal, of the Hispanic Voter Project, agrees that Republicans have made inroads in the Hispanic community. Though Gore won 62 percent of the nation's Hispanic vote in 2000, Bush's nearly 35 percent tally is considered high for Republicans. In Florida, the candidates flipped positions, with Bush winning nearly two-thirds of Latino votes, with big help from the Cuban community.

"I found that the Bush campaign made Hispanic outreach a higher priority within the campaign structure than did the Gore campaign," Segal said. "That put the strategists responsible for Hispanic outreach and communication at an advantage in terms of resources and finances."

María Cardona, director of the New Democrat Network's Hispanic project, agrees and said the president's 2000 election was "a wake-up call" for the Democratic Party, which realized it couldn't take Hispanics for granted anymore.

"George and Jeb have made special appeals that are very effective," Cardona said. "The president grew up in Texas and is clearly comfortable with Latinos. He's reached out to immigrants. And Jeb is married to a Mexican, and his family is for all intents Hispanic."

But, she contended, the GOP has done a "snow job" on Hispanics by welcoming them into the fold but not serving their needs.

With President Bush on a roll, the Kerry camp says it is fighting for Florida's Hispanic vote.

Unwilling to write off South Florida, where about 73 percent of the state's Latino vote is based, Kerry backers are courting Cubans.

"We are aggressively working in the Cuban-American community, something Democrats have not always done in the past," said Matthew Miller, Democratic state spokesman.

Cubans often in GOP

Unlike Puerto Ricans, Cubans are overwhelmingly Republican, with as many as 80 percent backing Bush in the 2000 election.

Cubans are swayed by foreign-policy concerns related to the U.S. relationship with Cuba. But Democrats have spotted an opening with new, harsher -- and unpopular -- travel restrictions to Cuba that Bush signed this year and an emerging generation of Cubans not as beholden to U.S.-Cuba policy.

No one expects Kerry to walk away with the Cuban vote, but it's a gamble that he may capture up to 25 percent, up from the 18 percent Gore obtained, political analysts said. In a tight election, that can make all the difference.

"He [Kerry] may pick up votes because the structure of the Cuban vote is changing," said Bendixen, who has done work for the New Democrat Network.

For instance, the newest generation of refugees, having lived longer in Castro's Cuba, are staking out more-moderate positions than the generation who fled to these shores in the 1960s.

The new refugees are more economic than political refugees; what's more, they are politically uncommitted. In addition, Cubans born in the United States tend to vote 2-to-1 in favor of the Democratic Party, which is considered more in line with how Hispanics vote nationwide.

"They are the ones really being fought over," Bendixen said.

'I've lost confidence'

Daniel Palacio, 35, born and raised in Miami, is one of the undecideds. The firefighter grew up in a Republican household and has never crossed party lines.

This year he is entertaining the idea for the first time.

"The older I get, I go more to the middle; I take more of a moderate stand," Palacio said.

Palacio's father, Víctor, who came to this country nearly 40 years ago, also is bucking the trend and is now an unaffiliated voter who doesn't like Bush or Kerry.

"My family was surprised when I said I wouldn't vote for Bush," said Víctor, 69, who is against the war in Iraq. "I've lost confidence in the system."

But Víctor acknowledges that the majority of Cubans may support Bush this fall, and Republicans are very much counting on the Cuban vote to win Florida.

"We will be able to hang on to the [Cuban] vote, and maybe even gain," said Sharon Castillo, a spokeswoman for the Bush campaign.

Whether Bush will gain more Cuban votes is debatable, but one thing is for sure: Florida's Hispanic voters have never been more coveted.

Said Cardona: "Florida clearly is the holy grail for both parties in terms of Hispanics, and I think overall, too."

Maya Bell of the Sentinel staff contributed to this report.

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