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
"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-
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."