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Hispanics May Wind Up Tuesday's Big Winners… Kerry Got A Higher Percentage Of The Latino Vote Than Gore Did In 2000… Non-Cuban Hispanics Flex Political Muscle

Hispanics May Wind Up Tuesday's Big Winners

By Andres Oppenheimer

November 1, 2004
Copyright © 2004
Akron Beacon Journal (OH). All rights reserved.

WASHINGTON -- 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 Univision'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, 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.

Oppenheimer is a Latin America correspondent for the Miami Herald.

GOP Gets Florida Hispanic Vote Still, John Kerry Got A Higher Percentage Of The Latino Vote Than Al Gore Did In 2000.

Victor Manuel Ramos, Cristina Elias and Walter Pacheco, Sentinel Staff Writers

November 3, 2004
Copyright © 2004
Orlando Sentinel. All rights reserved.

Hispanics in Florida again bucked national trends and supported the Republican presidential candidate, but apparently not as dramatically as in 2000.

Exit polls showed loyalty to the GOP had eroded some among Hispanics, with President Bush garnering more votes than his Democratic opponent, but John Kerry capturing a higher percentage than Al Gore did four years ago.

Meanwhile, U.S. Senate candidate Mel Martinez, a Cuban refugee and Republican, was doing better than Bush, pulling an estimated 59 percent of the vote, compared with the president's 54 percent, according to Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International.

"Florida usually favors Republicans, and we have seen signs of a shift,'' said Antonio Gonzalez, president of the William C. Velasquez Institute, a San Antonio research group that also did exit polling here.

"It's an interesting voting trend, because it would be a sea change in Latino voter behavior in Florida."

Now the largest minority group in the country as well as in Florida, Hispanics were the target of multiple registration drives and campaigns.

Still, they remained a wild card. Even if categorized as one ethnicity, most experts agree that Hispanics are by no means a solid voting bloc. Although nationally they tend to support Democrats, in Florida they have leaned Republican -- mostly because of the Cuban vote.

However, the state's Puerto Rican constituency, with its coveted swing votes, has grown significantly. Add to that other Hispanic immigrants.

"One thing Latinos have shown across the country is we will defy predictions and easy classification," said Marcelo Gaete, an officer with the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials in Los Angeles.

Several pre-election surveys and studies had predicted a significant rise in Latino voters. More than 180,000 are registered in Central Florida.

The effort to get Hispanics out apparently paid off in the Buenaventura Lakes neighborhood of Osceola and others like it. Voters turned out in droves to the community's library in a precinct where 56 percent of the voters are Latinos.

Some joked, as they waited in a line that snaked around the building, that the vote reminded them of Puerto Rico, where elections sometimes become festive occasions.

"The only thing missing is a guiro and a conga," said Maria Corsino, a 75-year-old native of Luquillo, Puerto Rico, who was surprised to see the crowd after 26 years living in Orlando.

Soraya Castillo, a volunteer with the Puerto Rican Federal Affairs Administration at an Engelwood polling site, said the showing there had been impressive. "They are coming in threes and fours, practically the whole family is voting," she said.

Many were thought to be first-time voters, reflecting the swelling population and get-out-the-vote efforts.

"It's as if we had been preparing for a test and this is the moment to shine," said Marytza Sanz, director of Latino Leadership, one of many groups that held voter drives.

Non-Cuban Hispanics Flex Political Muscle

By Sandra Hernandez

November 4, 2004
Copyright © 2004
SO FL SUN-SENTINEL. All rights reserved.

While Republicans and Democrats battled Wednesday over who won the support of Florida's Latino voters, one issue was clear: Cuban Americans are no longer the largest Hispanic voting bloc in the state.

Non-Cuban Hispanic voters, mostly Puerto Ricans and Colombians, grew from 40 percent in 2000 to an estimated 50 percent in this election, according to a survey conducted on Nov. 2 by the William C. Velasquez Institute, or WCVI, a Texas-based Hispanic think tank.

Once the dominant Latino group, Cuban Americans now account for about 50 percent of Florida's estimated 900,000 registered Hispanic voters. Four years ago, they accounted for about 60 percent of that bloc, according to the survey of 1,147 Hispanics across the state. It has a 2 percent margin of error.

"I don't think this is a zero sum game where Cubans lose but more about an increase in overall Hispanic influence here," said Dario Moreno, director of the Metropolitan Center, a political research institute at Florida International University.

The change is a dramatic shift in the state's Hispanic political landscape, which historically has been dominated by Cuban-American issues such as the U.S. embargo toward the island nation and its leader, President Fidel Castro.

Analysts viewed the change as a reflection of the influx of Latin Americans and Puerto Ricans, who will likely consider a broader range of election issues, ranging from U.S. policy toward Latin America to education or immigration.

"Foreign policy was a big issue for me," said Francisco González, a Venezuelan-American and first time voter who supported Sen. John Kerry. "I think there are many other people like myself who are voting and this simply shows the non-Cuban Hispanic community is maturing."

Margarita Valdemar, a Colombian-American who cast her ballot for President Bush, said U.S. support for Colombia's president helped her decide to vote for Bush. "He is the man who will help Colombia and he is interested in helping President Alvaro Uribe."

For some, the loss of Cuban domination marked an end to

candidates limiting their campaign stops to Little Havana. "The days of the fixation with the island for political candidates are over. We will see domestic issues such as health care and education coming to the forefront, and that is more in line with what Hispanics in the rest of the country care about," said Antonio González, president of WCVI.

Political candidates will have to acquire a greater repertoire of \

issues of importance to Latinos to win their votes.

"There is no question this will change the types of issues that come up," said Larry González of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials, a Washington, D.C.-based group that represents over 6,000 Hispanic elected officials. "Candidates will start looking beyond this broad Hispanic label and focus on specific issues.

Expect to see them talking about Venezuelan foreign policy or

immigration issues or Puerto Rico's status as a commonwealth."

That is welcome news to activists who complain their communities have long been ignored.

"For a long time politicians have come to South Florida and worn a guyabera and smoked a cigar and that was it," said Raul Duany, an activist who helped establish PROFESA, an association of Puerto Rican professionals in Florida. "Maybe these new numbers will get them into the harder issues. Maybe they will stop taking Latinos for granted and other voices will be heard."

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