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THE ORLANDO SENTINEL
The Awakening Giant: Hispanic Voters Made the Difference
by Myriam Marquez
November 9, 1998
©1998 Orlando Sentinel Online
This year's elections were marked by the rise of moderation
and the awakening of a Sleeping Giant, a.k.a. Hispanic voters.
In nationwide exit polls, 50 percent of voters identified themselves
as moderates, less than a third as conservatives and fewer than
one in five as liberals.
From Orange County, Calif., to Central Florida's own Orange
County, moderation prevailed. So, too, did Hispanic candidates,
such as Orange County Chairman-elect Mel Martinez.
Martinez wasn't the only Hispanic to win a local election with
the support of a majority population that's not Latino. In San
Jose, Calif., where Latinos make up only 14 percent of the voters,
Ron Gonzales became that city's first Latino mayor since California
became a state.
Hispanic voters turned out in record numbers in California
to hand that state's leadership to Democrats, including the newly
elected Lt. Gov Cruz Bustamante.
Hispanics are far from settled in either major political party,
even though a majority nationwide are registered Democrat. Polls
show that Hispanics vote based on a candidate's position on issues.
That would explain why, in 1996, Dade County's predominantly Republican
Cuban-Americans backed President Clinton.
In 1996, Latinos from Florida to California grew tired of immigrant-bashing
by conservative Republicans in Congress.
Now, two years later, Republican Gov. George W. Bush's strong
win in Texas has reinforced that point. He stood up to Republicans
in Congress who sought to strip elderly and disabled immigrants
of government benefits and to exclude children from public schools.
During his campaign, George W. Bush courted Hispanic Democrats
with Spanish-language television ads, plugging his first-term
successes in education reform and economic development. His message
was one of inclusion.
Jeb Bush's campaign touted the same themes in Florida. He has
no public record to speak of, but his message of pulling people
of disparate interests and incomes together resonated.
Even in Central Florida, where Puerto Rican voters are more
likely to vote Democrat, Bush fared well. In Orange County, he
captured 56 percent of Hispanics' vote, the Sentinel exit poll
The Bush brothers, who will govern one of every eight Americans,
are the poster boys for compassionate conservatism -- an antidote
to the poison pill of Pat Buchanan's immigrant-bashing rhetoric
But, on the national front, will the Bush bros be able to move
their party away from knee-jerk stands that have soured Hispanics?
Earlier this year, the Republican leadership, hoping to change
its sourpuss image among Hispanics, sought help from the Tarrance
Group, a polling firm that tracks Latino voters. Now the party
that sought English-only laws translates into Spanish its response
to the weekly White House radio broadcasts.
But it will take more than a few Spanish-language sound bites
for Republicans in states with growing Hispanic populations to
win over more Latinos, particularly in California.
Many Hispanic voters are still steaming over Grand Old Party-led
proposals that attacked immigration from Latin America.
"A majority of Hispanics have come to believe that Republicans
would rather have an America that did not include them,'' the
Tarrance Group stated in summarizing Latino sentiments to GOP
leaders this year.
The Bush brothers, having grown up in Texas, learned first
hand that Latinos can be an asset and not a drain, both economically
and culturally, to America. If their campaigns are any indication,
they also understand that moderation is the ticket to ride.
Click here for a related article
by Puerto Rico Herald staff.
OTHER Related Articles:
ASSOCIATED PRESS, "Hispanic
Vote Gaining Clout"
LULAC, "Hispanic Voters Make
PUERTO RICO HERALD, Interview
with Rick Dovalina, LULAC President