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THE MIAMI HERALD
Kerry Made Inroads Into Hispanic Vote
Florida Democrats found some positive signs in John Kerry's loss, saying a sampling of Hispanic precincts in Miami-Dade County shows some movement toward the Democrats.
BY LESLEY CLARK
November 10, 2004
John Kerry lost Florida, but state Democrats have found solace in one particular area: He made a dent in the reliably Republican Cuban-American voting block.
A sample of overwhelmingly Hispanic voting precincts in Miami-Dade shows Kerry picking up 35 percent of the vote, with 63 percent going to President Bush -- a landslide for Bush, but a 10-point drop from Bush's 73 percent backing in a similar sample in 2000.
The sample, selected by the Miami-Dade County elections department, was taken in five heavily Hispanic precincts. Though the sampling does not break out Cuban-American voters, they make up between 70 and 75 percent of the Hispanic vote in the county, and the results suggest some movement within the traditionally Republican constituency.
''You can't move 10 points without making significant gains among Cubans,'' said Sergio Bendixen, a Miami-based strategist for the New Democrat Network, which ran anti-Bush advertising, including a Miami television spot that bashed Bush's Cuba policy. ``These numbers would be the clearest signal of a change.''
During the campaign, Democrats hoped to exploit a divide among younger Cuban-American voters, whom some polls suggest are less likely to back the Bush administration's new travel restrictions against Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
While campaigning, Kerry said he would encourage ''principled travel'' to Cuba, and Bendixen's group accused the GOP of using the impasse on the island for political gain.
But Republicans suggested that the sample of five precincts, though primarily Hispanic, does not include enough predominantly Cuban neighborhoods to be valid. Non-Cuban Hispanics have traditionally sided with Democrats.
''If you're not going to include the very Cuban areas, you can't predict the Cuban vote,'' said state Rep. David Rivera, a Miami Republican who pushed Bush to enact the travel restrictions.
The New Democrat Network spent an estimated $6 million to court Hispanic voters in a half-dozen swing states, but election returns suggested Bush made inroads in several of those states, including Arizona.
Republican strategists have said Bush won 42 percent of the Hispanic vote nationally, a marked increase from the 35 percent he took in 2000.
But Maria Cardona, who directs the New Democrat Network's Hispanic Project, said the most hotly contested states, like Florida, showed Democrats making gains.
''We're looking long term,'' she said. ``That's where the growth is, that's where our conversation will be focused.''