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Miami Herald

Dems Fell Short In Effort To Woo Hispanic Voters

Despite massive efforts by Democrats to court Hispanic voters, early data show that any support gained was of little benefit to John Kerry.


November 4, 2004
Copyright © 2004 Miami Herald. All rights reserved.

MIAMI - The Hispanic share of the U.S. electorate swelled by 20 percent over the last four years, but it did little to alter the political landscape despite great effort by John Kerry and his Democratic allies.

President Bush, Kerry and their affiliated supporters spent a record amount of money this year courting Hispanic voters - more than $15 million - particularly in swing states such as Florida, New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada.

But all of those states went for Bush despite massive voter registration drives to sign up Hispanic voters and a surge in the amount of Hispanics as a percentage of the electorate in each state.

"Every indication is that the president's hard work over the last four years to make inroads into the Latino community throughout the country showed dividends last night," said Rudy Fernandez, regional political director for the Bush campaign in the Southwestern United States.

While exact data were not available by Wednesday, Republicans were quick to point out that Hispanics did not deliver the political boost the Democrats were hoping for to defeat Bush.

In fact, the Bush campaign claimed to have made deep inroads into the Hispanic vote across the country, which if true could prove a blow to prospects of a voting block strictly faithful to Democrats. Hispanics across the country tend to be Democrat more than Republican by a 2-to-1 margin.

Chief Bush strategist Matthew Dowd said exit polling revealed that Bush won 42 percent of the Hispanic vote this year, up from 35 percent in 2000.

Those figures were disputed by the William C. Velasquez Foundation, a think tank dedicated to studying Latino political participation. It said its exit polls showed Kerry actually widened his support among Latinos.

Latinos supported Kerry by 67.7 percent to 31.4 percent for Bush, the foundation said, based on a survey of 1,021 respondents in 56 precincts across 14 states.

"The Latinos couldn't be solely responsible for taking Kerry to victory. You have to get some white votes," said foundation president Antonio Gonzalez. "Latinos gave Kerry a big margin nationally. The fact of the matter is the Kerry campaign didn't do its job in getting votes from other communities."

Fernandez said Bush increased his share of the Hispanic vote in New Mexico by 7 points, to about 44 percent. In Colorado, 30 percent of Hispanics voted for Bush this year, up from 24 percent in 2000.

This year, Hispanics made up about 18 percent of Arizona's electorate, up from 15 percent in 2000; 30 percent of the electorate in New Mexico, which Al Gore won in 2000 by 366 votes; and 10 percent of Colorado's electorate, according to projections put forth earlier by the National Association of Latino Elected Officials.

If the Democrats saw a silver lining in the Hispanic vote, it was in Florida, where they said they watered down the influential Cuban-American Republican vote and made a sea change in the way the state's Hispanics lean politically.

In 2000, 65 percent of the state's Hispanics voted for Bush, according to a survey conducted for the New Democrat Network by pollster Sergio Bendixen. This year, the Hispanic vote took a liberal turn, the network said.

According to the foundation exit poll conducted Tuesday, Latinos in Florida voted for Kerry by a 52 percent to 45.7 percent margin, a 28-point shift from the 2000 election. The foundation said Bush beat Gore that year by a 61 to 39 percent margin.

In determining the results for the presidential race, the foundation exit survey interviewed 1147 respondents in 45 precincts across nine counties in Florida on Election Day.

In Florida, Bush's campaign said that 55 percent of Hispanic voters supported Bush. It claimed that was a six-point increase from 2000, but did not specify where that number came from.

The Bush campaign spent $5 million on advertising to Hispanics around the country, shattering the previous record by a candidate of $2 million, which is what Bush spent in 2000, according to Bush campaign staffers.

Massive voter registration efforts in Florida added about 160,000 Hispanics to the state's voter rolls in the last four years, increasing the Hispanic share of the electorate from 11 percent to about 13 percent.

"We lost, it's never a good thing, but we made huge inroads into the Hispanic vote in Florida," said Joe Garcia, a senior adviser to the New Democratic Network. "The only place we had a gain in Florida was in the Hispanic vote, but it wasn't enough. It certainly wasn't enough."

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