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Senate Hopefuls Promote Visions…Campaigns Are Wooing Florida's Hispanics

Senate Hopefuls Promote Visions

Courting Hispanics, Mel Martinez and Betty Castor pitch their `dream.'

By Sandra Mathers and Cristina Elias | Sentinel Staff Writers

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

The two candidates hoping to replace outgoing U.S. Sen. Bob Graham wooed Hispanic voters Saturday in Orlando, each pitching a different vision of the American Dream.

Mel Martinez, an Orlando Republican who fled Cuba as a child and gained national exposure as federal housing secretary, has made that term the catch-phrase of his campaign.

But rival Betty Castor, a Tampa Democrat, former college president and state education commissioner, is trying to redefine what the dream should be.

Saturday, Castor introduced her "American Dream Plan" to Hispanic supporters at an Orlando restaurant. It was a day after Martinez introduced a TV ad focusing on his life living the American dream.

Although most Hispanics in Central Florida are Democrats, ethnicity trumped partisanship at the National Puerto Rican/Hispanic Empowerment Summit at the Rosen Centre Hotel adjacent to the Orange County Convention Center.

"I have nothing against Castor in there," said William Correa, a Puerto Rican businessman whose son is an intern at a Republican congressman's office.

"She seems very nice, but it should be one of us in there."

In his speech to the mostly Puerto Rican crowd Saturday night, Martinez stressed the way in which he helped appoint many Hispanics to various boards around Central Florida and his contribution to creating city-administered housing authorities in Puerto Rico.

"I think together we can make history," he told the crowd in Spanish, touting his Hispanic heritage over Castor. "I want to give Puerto Rico a voice and a vote in Congress."

If elected, Martinez would be the fourth Hispanic Senator elected in the country and the first from Florida. He also would be the first Cuban-American elected to the Senate.

"It's not that I'm thinking of crossing parties," said Mildred Fernandez, the president of the Puerto Rican Parade of Orlando, who has always been a staunch Democrat. "It's that I'm going to. That man has always helped me without looking at nationalities."

But Castor earlier in the day stressed how she could help the Florida's growing Hispanic population.

"The real American dream is what's important to working people," Castor told about 70 people at the Brisas del Caribe restaurant in east Orlando.

Castor's plan calls for affordable health care for families, increasing the minimum wage, reducing the cost of prescription drugs and increasing higher education opportunities for low-income and immigrant students.

"Part of the American dream is ensuring people have health care coverage for themselves and their children," said Castor, a state legislator in the 1980s.

She helped steer the Healthy Kids initiative through the Legislature, and a similar program was adopted by Congress in the 1990s. Today, she said, it provides health insurance to 300,000 income-eligible Florida schoolchildren.

Castor wants Congress to expand the program to include families of those children, at a cost of about $60 billion over 10 years.

"It's a practical plan and affordable if we stop giving tax breaks to the richest people," she said. "Many people who take care of us [health care workers] can't insure themselves."

Castor also wants to raise the minimum wage by $1.50 an hour, from $5.15 to $6.65 -- a move that she says would benefit low-wage workers in the hotel industry.

"My opponent opposes the minimum-wage hike," she said. "I am squarely for it."

And she wants Congress to remove restrictions in the Medicare Prescription Drug Bill passed last year that ban negotiating the cost of prescription drugs.While these issues have dominated Castor's campaign from the start, her "American Dream Plan" appears to be a new initiative.

Castor insisted she was not trying to beat Martinez at his own game, but her Web site, which listed six other "plans" Saturday, made no mention of an "American Dream Plan."

But her message played well with the crowd. Luis Grajales, a Puerto Rican who turned out to hear her, said her heart is in the Democrat's agenda.

"It's employment and education for our people," he said.

Campaigns Are Wooing Florida's Hispanics

Both parties are vigorously pursuing Hispanic voters. A UM forum today will look at what Hispanics want in their candidate.


September 29, 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE MIAMI HERALD. All rights reserved.

Nory Acosta is young, a registered independent and hasn't made up her mind on a candidate for November's presidential election. And she's Hispanic.

That means she belongs to a group that could prove crucial in choosing the next president. Hispanics, and especially Florida Hispanics, are being registered, and wooed, like never before. Consider:

• A Democratic group announced Tuesday it's launching a Spanish-language television ad campaign in Florida and four other battleground states, aimed at converting Republican-leaning Cuban-Americans.

• A voter registration group will announce today it has exceeded its own expectations by signing up more than 65,000 Hispanic voters in Florida during the past six months. The new voters are split evenly between Democrats and Republicans.

• And, at a panel discussion at the University of Miami today, the National Council of La Raza -- the largest Hispanic advocacy group in the nation -- will outline what steps it believes candidates must take to capture the Hispanic vote, which the group says has grown by at least one million nationally since 2000.

The attention showered on Hispanic voters is plenty to digest for voters like Acosta.

''I'm actually trying to decide,'' said the third-year law student at the University of Miami. ``You never know what will be the deciding event.''


Acosta and fellow members of UM's Hispanic Students Law Association helped organize today's panel discussion, moderated by Univision anchor Jorge Ramos.

Speaking on the panel: NCLR President Raul Yzaguirre; Joe Garcia, senior advisor to the New Democratic Network and the former director of the Cuban American National Foundation, and state Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami.

During the discussion, Yzaguirre will analyze how the candidates have done wooing the Hispanic vote.

In a report to be released today, La Raza says President Bush generated enthusiasm among Hispanics early in his tenure. But his policies since then -- the group says he has failed to deliver on health and immigration reforms -- have left his position shaky.

''He could be on the verge of blowing it with this community,'' Muñoz said.

Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry, for his part, is seen as favoring Hispanic-friendly policies but needs more specifics.

La Raza warns that candidates should not ignore the Hispanic vote, especially in swing states like Florida, which has roughly one million Hispanics registered to vote.

In the 2000 election, 80 percent of Florida Cubans went for Bush while roughly 60 percent of non-Cuban Hispanics favored Al Gore.

''If you look at the size and scale of the Latino vote, you can see that any significant change in voter preference could determine the outcome in those states,'' Muñoz said.

Meanwhile, the Mi Familia Vota group says its registration drive was the most successful in the country, a contention other national organizations are not disputing.

''Nobody has invested in Hispanics like this before,'' said Jorge Mursuli, president of the Miami Chapter of People For the American Way, a liberal-leaning organization that oversaw the drive with a budget of about $1 million. Its goal was 50,000 new voters.

''What is going on politically is that these people are starting to become part of the American fabric,'' Mursuli said.

Of those Mi Familia Vota registered, 30.5 percent chose the Republican Party, 30.3 percent signed up as Democrats and 38.1 percent chose not to sign up with either party, Mursuli said.

Most of the new registrations, about 41,500, were from Miami-Dade and Broward counties. The rest came from Central Florida.

In an effort to reach Hispanic voters, the Bush campaign has spent $3.5 million advertising in Hispanic media, said campaign spokeswoman Sharon Castillo.

The Bush campaign is preparing this week to launch its ninth Spanish language television ad and seventh Spanish radio ad, all of them aired in Florida.

But those new voters are also being targeted by New Democratic Network's new 30-second ads, which come as Democrats hope to siphon a fraction of the mostly Republican Cuban-American community from President Bush.

''If one-half of one percent of Cubans had stayed home in 2000, we'd be talking about Al Gore's re-election,'' said Garcia, the network's recruiter who is also speaking at UM today.

``That's how big the Cuban-American voting bloc is.''


One of the spots features Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez, who is a Democrat. It accuses Republicans of talking about Cuba but failing to deliver.

But the ad steers clear of the president's controversial crackdown on travel to Cuba, instead arguing that Democrats are better suited to deliver health care and jobs.

''We're keeping to the economy and health care because those are the issues we've framed for our campaign, across the board,'' said Maria Cardona, who is directing the group's Hispanic outreach program.

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