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Democrats' Ads Zero In On Puerto Rican Voters Money Talks: U.S. Candidates Want The Hispanic Vote Up For Grabs Will The Sleeping Giant Awaken?
Democrats' Ads Zero In On Puerto Rican Voters
Radio spots about island residents target those who live in Florida now.
By Víctor Manuel Ramos | Sentinel Staff Writer
October 24, 2004
The strums of a guitar play the sweet melodies of "Mi Viejo San Juan," a nostalgic song that has transported several generations of Puerto Ricans to childhood memories of life in the San Juan of old.
But after a voice croons a few verses, a political message starts in a more rapid-paced Spanish. It tells listeners that "millions" of Puerto Ricans back on the island, who benefit from a $1,000 child tax credit on their income taxes, would lose those "thousands of dollars every year" if Republicans win.
And while the radio ad never mentions John Kerry, or George W. Bush for that matter, the spot is a direct attempt to gain for Democrats the swing vote of the more than 250,000 Puerto Ricans who live along the I-4 corridor. Two versions, placed by the New Democrat Network political group, started playing last week in five Spanish-language radio stations in Orlando and five others in Tampa -- the Florida metro areas where Puerto Ricans are the largest segment of the Hispanic population.
María Cardona, a spokeswoman for the Democratic group, said the ads speak "directly to the Puerto Rican constituency," banking on their concerns for island issues. Cardona said the same approach will be used in the other Puerto Rican areas of Philadelphia and Cleveland, along with Spanish-language ads for the Kerry-Edwards campaign expected to be aired in Central Florida. In addition, young Democrats from Puerto Rico went door to door here, seeking votes in Hispanic neighborhoods.
"This is the first Puerto Rico-specific ad," Cardona said. "Up to now, most of our messages have been very generic in terms of targeting Hispanic communities."
However, Bush-Cheney campaign officials, who are spending more than $4 million in Spanish-language ads throughout the country, say the Puerto Rico ads are using false claims to attract that vote. Campaign spokeswoman Sharon Castillo called them "part of the pre-Halloween tour" to scare voters.Since 1997, island households with three or more children have qualified for the $1,000 child tax credit, which had been expanded during Bill Clinton's presidency, even if they don't have to file federal tax returns. The Bush budget for 2005 would have eliminated the benefit in Puerto Rico, according to a bipartisan analysis issued in February by Congress' Joint Committee on Taxation.
So the Puerto Rican ad campaign, at a $50,000 cost compared to the $6 million to be spent by the same group in Spanish-language radio and television ads throughout the country, calls on boricuas -- as Puerto Ricans also identify themselves-- to represent their island families, who can't vote for president.
"It all depends on us, the boricuas who are here," the ad says.
But Luis Fortuño, speaking for the Bush-Cheney campaign, counters that Bush and Republican leadership in Congress backtracked on requiring mainland residence for the credit, making it a moot point.
"It was an unintended effect of the budget and as soon as the White House realized the effect, it corrected it," said Fortuño, who is in San Juan running for a nonvoting island seat in U.S. Congress.
Although it's gone for now, the proposal could return, some say.
"My impression is there was a concern that if it was enacted this year this might have an adverse effect for the president with Puerto Rican voters in the states," said Robert Greenstein, director of the Center on Budget and Policy Issues, an economic-issues think tank in Washington, D.C.
Despite the administration's reversal, Cardona said her group would continue to advertise the tax-credit issue unless President Bush himself clearly says the benefit will not be taken away from island Puerto Ricans.
José García, a policy analyst with the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, a New York-based advocacy group, said Central Florida lends itself to more discussion of island issues that wouldn't matter for Puerto Ricans elsewhere. "Puerto Rican migration to other U.S. areas started before the 1960s, but it's still happening in Orlando and there is a stronger connection to the island," García said.
The approach of linking politics to those island connections has yet to prove successful. It was getting mixed reactions among members of the Casa de Puerto Rico, a Winter Park-based club where many retirees from Puerto Rico go to socialize. Club president Rafael Birriel said that when members discuss politics, there is no clear majority for either Kerry or Bush.
Birriel, 74, said some had commented on the tax relief issue, but health benefits and Social Security remained more urgent matters. "We know that there is an attempt to take away that tax break and many of us are concerned, but we don't file income tax returns there," Birriel said. "They are trying to get at the heart of Puerto Ricans, because when I hear that song [in the ad] I get sentimental, but I respond to the song and a little bit less to the politics."
Money Talks: U.S. Candidates Want The Hispanic Vote
October 28, 2004
Regardless of the outcome of Tuesday's election, there is a good chance that one of the big winners will be the growing bloc of Latin American immigrant voters.
If the election turns out to be as close as it looks today, an expected record turnout of first-generation Latin American immigrants could be a major factor in deciding the election, and would significantly boost the political clout of this country's 39 million Hispanics in both domestic and foreign affairs.
Granted, a lot of the talk about the growing importance of the Hispanic vote in the past has been speculation. But if you look at the money spent by President Bush and Democratic candidate Sen. John Kerry on Spanish-language media, there is little question that they consider it critical.
The Bush and Kerry campaigns, and their respective support groups, have spent $13 million on Spanish-language media in this election, more than three times the $4 million that campaigns spent in the 2000 election, according to a study by the Hispanic Voter Project at Johns Hopkins University.
The bulk of these funds went to Spanish-language television ads, reaching many first-generation Latin American immigrants. About 50 percent of the nation's Hispanic voters were born in Latin America or Puerto Rico, and half of them have registered to vote since 1990, pollsters say.
''Money talks: When the campaigns put money on the table, you know that they're serious,'' said Sergio Bendixen, a Democratic Party pollster specializing in the U.S. Hispanic electorate. ``There has been an unprecedented electoral battle for Hispanic immigrants who watch Spanish-language television.''
In addition, both candidates have spent an unprecedented amount of time giving interviews to Hispanic media, ranging from Univisión's Sabado Gigante entertainment show to small circulation weeklies. Kerry has given 24 exclusive interviews to Hispanic media, including the weeklies Al Dia of Philadelphia, and Gente of Minnesota, his campaign says.
Among the reasons for the sudden focus on Latin American immigrants:
Election experts are predicting a record turnout of about 7.5 million Hispanic voters nationwide, or more than 6 percent of the nation's vote. It is a massive figure if you consider that the polls show a virtual tie between the two candidates. By comparison, about 5.9 million Hispanics voted in 2000.
Pollsters say a significant number of Hispanic voters are undecided, or willing to support presidential and congressional candidates of either party.
For instance, a majority of Central Florida Hispanic voters supported Democratic candidate Al Gore in 2000, and Republican Gov. Jeb Bush in 2002. Because of this, Republican and Democratic strategists believe a sizable part of the Hispanic vote is up for grabs.
There is a huge concentration of Hispanic voters in key battleground states. In the 2000 election, Bush won Florida by 537 votes, and Gore won New Mexico by 366 votes.
''How much influence the political pundits assign to Hispanic voters will depend upon just how close the vote is in Florida, New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado,'' said Adam Segal, director of the Hispanic Voter Project. ``If it's a close race and the winning candidate has a wide margin of victory among Hispanic voters, it will be seen as the critical component in his victory.''
If the Hispanic vote turns out to decide this election, Latin American immigrants will most likely increase their clout in Washington, D.C., and will be increasingly courted by their native Latin American countries. According to a Zogby International poll, 91 percent of U.S. Hispanic voters consider U.S. policy toward Latin America a ''very important'' or ''somewhat important'' factor in their voting decisions.
''For any group that has had a significant [electoral] impact, the next logical step is to turn that power into a lobbying power,'' said John Zogby, president of Zogby International. ``This could be the last election where Latin America policy is ignored.''
I agree. After Tuesday's election, it will be interesting to see not only who wins, but with whose votes he wins. If the Hispanic vote turns out to be as critical as many predict, it is bound to have a growing impact on Washington's domestic and foreign policies.
Up For Grabs
Latinos are this election years swing voters
By ANA RADELAT
Lalena López has never voted, but plans to do so this year. But like thousands of Hispanics in key swing states, she hasnt made up her mind about whether shell vote for Democratic candidate John Kerry or help give President Bush a second term.
"I havent been able to watch enough television to know enough about the candidates," says López, 34, a receptionist at an employment agency in Pueblo, Colorado, and the mother of two.
But López is determined to vote this year and is embarrassed she hasnt before.
"Theres no excuse. I just havent done it," she says.
López is just the type of voter that the Democrats and Republican parties are spending millions of dollars to woo in unprecedented efforts this year. As a Hispanic in one of five battleground statesColorado, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Floridathat could determine who lives in the White House next year, López is the target of a barrage of television and radio commercials and dozens of voter registration drives.
According to a series of polls and studies, more Hispanics than ever beforeup to 8 millionwill go to the polls on Nov. 2. Nearly a third of them identify themselves as independent voters or members of a party other than the Democratic Party or the GOP, a recent report by the Pew Hispanic Center said.
The increasing political independence of Latinos, and the large numbers of undecided and unregistered Hispanics, is making the Kerry-Edwards campaign and the Bush-Cheney camp pull out all stops to make inroads into the Hispanic community this year.
But López doesnt seem to recognize the gargantuan efforts to win her favor. She hasnt seen any of the television advertisements for both Kerry, a Democratic senator from Massachusetts, or Bush on Spanish-language television station Univision running in Colorado.
But she is aware of the controversial English-language advertisement Bush ran that had the destruction of the World Trade towers as a backdrop. That sparked her political sensibilities because her brother-in-law was in the second plane to hit the towers.
"How can you use Sept. 11 in a campaign?" she asks.
While López has a special reason to focus on politics this year, she is also concerned about issues that have been determined to be at the top of the Hispanic voters agenda. The study by the Pew Hispanic Center backed what many believed: Hispanics are more concerned about education than any other voter group. Fifty-four percent said education will be extremely important in determining their vote for president this year. Fifty-one percent said the economy, jobs, health care and Medicare will be extremely important.
Latinos are somewhat more dubious about the decision to go to war than the general population, the Pew study said. Fifty-four percent of the registered Latino voters polled by Pew in July said the Bush Administration deliberately misled the American public about how big a threat Iraq was to the United States.
But López says the schooling of her children, aged 15 and seven, is on the top of her mind. She also worries about what would happen to her family if her husband Francisco loses the health care coverage his employer, a chemical plant in Pueblo, provides.
"What if we were to lose that, what would we do?" López asks. Bush and Kerry are aware of Hispanic concerns and address those issues in campaign stops and commercials targeted at Latinos.
"The battleground voter is the Latino," says Sergio Bendixen, a Democratic pollster in Florida.
To help Kerry independently of his campaign, the New Democrat Network (NDN) has poured millions of dollars into Spanish-language advertising in Florida, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada and Arizona. These states are considered in play because Bush or his previous rival, Vice President Al Gore, won them by less than 5 percent of the vote in 2000. In contrast, other states with sizable Latino populations are already firmly in the Republican or Democratic campTexas is expected to vote for Bush and California and New York for Kerry, and Latinos in those states wont be wooed as passionately.
NDN advertisements in the Hispanic battleground states, on television and radio, bash Bushs No Child Left Behind education policy as ineffectual and remind Hispanics of their long tradition of favoring the Democratic Party. One features a series of Hispanic lawmakers to underscore the point that there are many more Democratic Latino elected officials than Republican ones.
NDN Vice President María Cardona criticizes Gores efforts to reach Hispanics. One mistake, Cardona says, was that Gore failed to run any Spanish-language ads in Florida.
Bush, a former Texas governor who knows how to stump in Hispanic communities, won about 35 percent of the Latino vote in 2000, unprecedented for a Republican presidential candidate.
"He knows how to speak to the Hispanic voter and they dont know who we (Democrats) are," Cardona says. "Our party is still falling short."
Bush needs to keep the gains his "compassionate conservatism" earned him in the Hispanic community in the Latino battleground states. As of mid-summer, his campaign spent $1.1 million in Spanish language ads. One, which seems targeted at new Hispanic voters, exhibits the flags of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua before dissolving into the Stars and Stripes. It ends "Presidente BushNos Conocemos."
Other Bush ads seem to target the growing numbers of Hispanic entrepreneurs with criticism of Kerrys opposition to the permanent abolition of the inheritance tax and with charges that the Democrat plans to raise taxes on middle-income Latinos.
"We are reaching out to all Latinos from all walks of life," says Bush-Cheney campaign spokeswoman Sharon Castillo.
Hispanic voters polled by Pew gave Kerry a 2-1 advantage over Bush. But in Florida, Bush won 151,000 more Hispanic votes than Gore in 2000, thanks largely to Cuban Americans angry with President Clintons decision to return little Cuban rafter Elián González back to his father in Cuba.
Democrats hope these Cuban voters wont go to the polls in the numbers they did in 2000. They also hope Bushs new measures to tighten the longstanding U.S. economic embargo, an effort to win favor among exile hard-liners, boomerangs. Theres evidence that moderate Cubans, who tend to be later arrivals to the United States, are angry over Bushs move to restrict cash remittances and exile trips to the island.
The Kerry-Edwards campaign also hopes growing numbers of Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Colombians and other Hispanics in Florida, who unlike the Cuban exiles tend to vote Democratic, will help them win this key state.
But the Bush-Cheney campaign has backed the Senate efforts of Mel Martínez, a Cuban American who was Bushs Secretary of Housing and Urban Development before he decided to run for Congress. Republicans hope Martínezs name on the ballot will turn out Cuban Americans and maybe even strengthen their hand with Puerto Rican voters in Floridawho showed Martínez some measure of support when he was mayor of Orlando.
The Kerry-Edwards campaign has also hitched its wagon to a popular Senate candidate. In Colorado, Democrats hope Attorney General Ken Salazars Senate candidacy will energize Latinoswho accounted for nearly 20 percent of the population but only 7 percent of the vote in 2002to vote Democratic in November.
In addition, independent groups have fanned out over the battleground states with voter registration drives to try to make Latino votes a force in politics this year. Newly registered Latinos trend Democratic and might help Kerry if their numbers swell.
The Southwest Voter Registration Education Project has an ambitious, $5 million project to register Latino voters in Colorado and other states where Hispanics may make a difference.
The group hopes to register 12,000 new Latino voters in Coloradoand nag them to go to the polls until Election Day.
"Seventy to 80 percent of new voters turn out with targeting," says SVREP Vice President Lydia Camarillo.
Kerry is also helped by key Democrats out west, especially New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, whose job it is to make sure New Mexico, won by Gore by a mere 366 votes, remains Democratic. Richardsons Moving American Forward campaign is registering Hispanic voters in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado and Florida.
But the Republican National Committee has countered by rolling out "Reggie the Registration Rig," an 18-wheel truck with video games, big screen televisions and a karaoke station, through the Latino battleground states to sign up new GOP voters.
In Arizona, where more than 25 percent of the population is Hispanic, Latinos accounted for only 12 percent of the vote in 2000. Thanks to all the attention from the candidatesand the divisive issue of illegal immigrationthis year those numbers may change.
Anti-immigration groups there recently won their fight to have a proposition on the ballot that would deny state service to the undocumented.
Proposition 200, or Protect Arizona Now, is expected to galvanize Latinos in that state much like a similar measure known as Proposition 187 did in California in 1994.
The Bush campaign has tried to distance itself from Proposition 200 by saying it is a state issue. So has Kerry.
Camarillo said the anti-immigrant proposition is likely to be approved by Arizona voters, but its presence on the ballot in Arizona may boost Latino participation in the electionand that could help Kerry.
In Nevada, the growing numbers of Latinos in labor unions that provide workers for the states casinos and tourism trade has put that traditionally Republican state in play. Latino turnout could increase there because of a ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage.
In any case, the way Latinos vote in November will be scrutinized like never before. And the special attention theyre receiving from the parties this year may lead to more clout. "Latinos are better off and more empowered if both parties are fighting for them," notes one Bush-Cheney campaign official.
Will The Sleeping Giant Awaken?
Lets hope the candidates listened to Latino voters.
By María Elena Salinas
Latino voters are on the verge of making political history. With massive voter registration and get-out-the-vote campaigns, we are in a unique position to decide who will be the next president of the United States. And that is not an overstatement. The question is whether we will live up to the task.
We have finally reached the wait-and-see stage in the presidential election. We are waiting to see if the sleeping giant will awaken. We are waiting to see if the vast purchasing power of Latinos in this country will give way to an unprecedented political force. But we are also waiting to see ifon the road to the White HouseDemocrats and Republicans stopped to listen to the voices of Hispanic voters.
This election year, more than ever before, Latinos had an opportunity to speak out and express their views and concerns. Through numerous polls and voter forums, they laid out the issues that affect them, and spelled out what it would take to get their vote come Nov. 2. Never had mainstream media paid so much attention to analyzing the Latino vote.
Lets hope the politicians were listening and realized that the patronizing sombrero and mariachi politics they have been following up to now is not going to be enough to get the Latino vote. Offering unrealistic immigration proposals and laying out a policy on how to get rid of Fidel Castro is not the way to voters hearts.
While those issues are important to many Hispanic voters, the candidates need to remember that they are also Americans, albeit hyphenated Americans, but no less American than the next guyor they would not have the right to vote.
The war in Iraq and the war on terrorism have come up as important issues to Latinos in most polls, but the primary concerns are things that affect their daily lives in their own communities, such as the economy, jobs, education and health care.
Its easy to see why. The poverty level among Hispanics stands at 22.5 percent compared to 12.5 percent of all Americans. The unemployment rate among Latinos increased from 5.6 percent in July 2000 to 6.8 percent in July 2004. About one third of Latinos are uninsured, the highest level in the country. And when it comes to education, the high school drop-out rate among Hispanic students at 36 percent remains far higher than that of other groups.
Democrats and Republicans are not oblivious to the fact that Latinos are not only the fastest-growing minority in the country, but also the fastest-growing voting block, with 16 million eligible voters and between 7 and 8 million expected to cast their ballots. That is why they have engaged in a political tug-of-war, with Democrats trying to maintain their base and win back some of the supporters they lost in the last presidential election and Republicans trying to make converts out of the Democratic base.
Its no secret that traditionally 7 out of 10 Latino voters have supported the Democratic Party. But in 2000 George W. Bush got more votes from Hispanics than any other Republican presidential candidate before him. According to the White House, he received 35 percent of the vote. Al Gore got 64 percent without much of an effort to earn it.
Republicans know that they will not get the majority of the Hispanic voteat least not this election year. But they will settle for 40 percent. Which is, according to chief GOP strategist Matthew Dowd, what Bush needs to win re-election. Democrats want to make sure it doesnt happen; thats why they have been battling it out in Florida (where Cuban Americans helped Bush win the White House), New Mexico (where Gore won by only 22 votes), Arizona (where there are 70,000 new Latino voters), and Nevada and Colorado (where Latinos represent 10 percent of the vote).
John Kerry was not about to make the same mistake Gore made. Democrats finally realized they could no longer take the Latino vote for granted. While Gore spent next to nothing on political ads in Spanish language media, Kerry made a significant investment, as did the New Democrat Network under the 527 guidelines. An army of Latino supporters under the movement Unidos con Kerry went door to door across the country in a get-out-the-vote mission. And for the first time a Latino, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, was chair of the Democratic National Convention.
The Bush/Cheney campaignwith more money to spendinvested even higher amounts in Spanish-language radio and TV ads. For over a year, Republicans had Viva Bush volunteers working the barrios in 30 states and Puerto Rico. Bush revived some of the old phrases en español he had kept stashed away for the past three years. The Republican National Committee held daily briefings for Spanish-language media during their convention in New York and even highlighted Latin stud/presidential nephew George P. Bush.
But while both campaigns tried to out-Latino each other in their respective conventions declaring them the most diverse in convention history, one thing was clear: it was not enough. Two or three Hispanic speakers in prime-time spots are dismal for a community that represents 13 percent of the population.
So who is going to get the Latino vote this year? Most polls show that 60 percent of Latinos will vote for Kerry, and 30 percent for Bush. But if Bush is able to inch up just a little in the last weeks of the campaign, he could very well keep his day job. The real challenge for both candidates will be to sway independent and uncommitted Latino voters and inspire thousands of first-time voters and naturalized citizens who dont have a history of loyalty to either party. And the challenge for Latino voters is to show up at the polls.