Associated Press

GOP, Democrats Court Hispanics


(07/03/98, Copyright © 1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

DALLAS (AP) – The day after Newt Gingrich and the Texas governor touted family values before the nation's largest Hispanic political group, leading Democrats warned that no party was more "anti- Hispanic" than the GOP.

The promises and potshots underscored the high stakes for both parties in courting Hispanic voters.

Gov. George W. Bush, accompanied by House Speaker Gingrich, the outspoken Georgia Republican, stressed education and family values to members of the League of United Latin American Voters on Wednesday.

A day later, House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt declared that Republicans are "the most anti-immigrant, the most anti-Hispanic party that has ever existed in the history of this country."

The Hispanic population has grown rapidly, especially in a few large states, and the number of Hispanics registered to vote has increased by one-third this decade.

In 45 House districts, Hispanics represent more than 20 percent of the voting-age population. Democrats are targeting 15 of those seats held by Republicans.

Rep. Martin Frost, R-Texas, chairman of his party's House campaign committee, thinks Hispanics are capable of keeping the GOP in control of the House or shifting power to the Democrats.

Hispanics have tended to register and vote as Democrats, sometimes by margins greater than 2-to-1. In 1984, President Reagan took nearly 40 percent of the Hispanic vote, but the GOP share has since plummeted into the low 20s.

Some observers attribute that trend to GOP proposals in California and elsewhere to deny welfare benefits to immigrants, end bilingual education and affirmative action, and declare English the nation's official language.

"Obviously the Republicans know the importance of the Hispanic vote," said Hector Flores, a vice president of LULAC. "But right now because of the political agenda and latest assaults of the Republicans, they need to earn our trust."

Gephardt hammered at GOP proposals he said he believes will be unpopular with Hispanics, including an attempt to tighten naturalization rules, another to let election officials check the citizenship of registered voters and an unsuccessful effort to invalidate the 1996 election of a Hispanic, Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D- Calif.

Bush, who sprinkled his speech with Spanish, drew loud applause when he endorsed bilingual education and friendlier policy toward Mexico. Bush, who is seeking another term this fall but is considered a potential presidential candidate in 2000, said neither party should take Hispanic voters for granted.

"The Hispanic vote is important today, and it's going to be really important tomorrow," he said. "Candidates such as myself must go out to the barrios and knock on doors, and that's what I plan to do."

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