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THE NEW YORK TIMES
Republicans Open a Big Drive to Appeal to Hispanic
by Don Van Natta, Jr.
January 15, 2000
Copyright © 2000 THE NEW YORK TIMES. All Rights Reserved.
SAN JOSE, Calif., Jan. 14 -- After the lights had dimmed in
a hotel meeting room here, Republican officials introduced a 60-second
television commercial that they say will help court Hispanic voters,
whose rapidly growing population makes them a political force
that could swing the largest states in the presidential election
The advertisement features a patriotic narrative delivered
by an elderly Hispanic man at a Fourth of July celebration while
four generations of his family wave American flags, recite the
Pledge of Allegiance and take several whacks at a red-white-and-blue
"You know," says the man, who gives his name as Joe
Guerra in spots produced both in English and in Spanish, "even
my 95-year-old father is today a Republican. He passed his values
along to me, and I passed them along to my children and my grandchildren.
When people ask me why I am a Republican, I tell them it is because
my family's values are the values of the Republican Party."
When the lights went up, many officials attending this winter
meeting of the Republican National Committee expressed enthusiasm
for the commercial, the first of several that the party will run
this year in an aggressive $10 million advertising campaign aimed
at Hispanic voters.
The advertising campaign in turn is part of a larger Republican
drive to woo Hispanics, who have voted overwhelmingly for Democrats
in recent national elections.
The push, which Republican officials call "unprecedented,"
is crucial to the party's future, said Jim Nicholson, chairman
of the national committee.
"The Latino community is in play in this election like
never before," Mr. Nicholson said at a news conference here.
"And they're sending this message: 'We're open to change.
Persuade us. Make your best case.' I'm here to promise you that
Indeed, Mr. Nicholson said the attention bestowed on Hispanic
voters this year would equal that lavished on "soccer moms"
In public forums and closed-door sessions at their meeting
here in the heart of Silicon Valley, party leaders are formulating
strategy. While there has been little public talk of fund-raising
plans, the officials have discussed any number of other topics,
including the uses of new technology, the 2004 primary schedule
and efforts to reach out to women and African-Americans.
But most Republican leaders said their most important challenge
was to attract more Hispanic voters, in a manner that one Republican
consultant, Frank Guerra, described as "sustained and sincere."
The number of Hispanics in the United States has grown so rapidly
that they are expected to overtake African-Americans as the nation's
largest minority group by 2005 and to account for 25 percent of
the population by 2050. The states with the largest Hispanic populations
-- California, Texas, New York and Florida -- currently account
for 144 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House.
"We are dealing now with numbers that no one can ignore,"
said Lionel Sosa, chief executive of Garcia LKS, a San Antonio
advertising firm that specializes in marketing to Hispanics.
"The party that wins the Hispanic vote and keeps the Hispanic
vote will be the majority party over the next 30 years."
Several Republican officials acknowledged that they would need
more than a well-produced advertisement to attract larger numbers
Garabed Haytaian, the Republican state chairman in New Jersey,
said, "It's going to take a large commitment of resources
-- money from the party to help Hispanic candidates win."
Jenny Backus, press secretary of the Democratic National Committee,
criticized the new commercial as "a simplistic, somewhat
patronizing message" to Hispanics.
"It's like the Republicans have not learned the lesson
of New Coke," Ms. Backus said. "They are trying to sell
their product, their issues agenda, to people who don't like the
taste. People have long memories, and this approach won't erase
the divisive rhetoric on immigration that the Republican Party
has used in the past."
While Hispanics are far from a monolithic group -- polls show
that they often most closely identify with their particular country
of origin or ancestry -- Republican leaders said this week that
the party shared with them "the values that matter: a commitment
to family, a strong work ethic, a love of country and of freedom,
a belief in opportunity and a willingness to accept personal responsibility."
If recent election results are any guide, though, Hispanics
as a whole feel they share far more with the Democrats. Hispanics
went in large numbers for Bill Clinton: 72 percent of their vote
in 1996, to 21 percent for Bob Dole, and 61 percent in 1992, to
25 percent for George Bush.
Despite those results, and despite polls that showed the Democrats'
hold on Hispanics growing stronger in the 1990's, Republican officials
said they were encouraged by a survey conducted by a Republican
pollster, Lance Tarrance.
That survey, of 1,000 Hispanics interviewed last month in Houston,
identified 45 percent as "hard-core Democrats" and 30
percent as "hard-core Republicans."
There was a 25 percent "target group" of undecided
Hispanic voters that Republicans say they will try to attract.
"If we don't get 40 percent of the Hispanic vote over
the next generation, we probably won't be having a meeting of
this size," Mr. Tarrance said at a panel discussion here
The Republican bid for Hispanics will be difficult in California,
where exit polls in 1998 showed that 78 percent had voted for
Democrats, and just 17 percent for Republicans, in races for Congress
and governor. Other polls have also shown a pronounced anti-Republican
sentiment among California Hispanics, attributed mainly to the
policies of Pete Wilson, who won a second term as governor in
1994 by appealing to the state's anti-immigration sentiment.
In Texas, on the other hand, Gov. George W. Bush, who often
speaks Spanish at campaign events in largely Hispanic neighborhoods,
won re-election in 1998 with 49 percent of the Hispanic vote.
"Attracting Latinos in Texas will be easier," said
Mr. Sosa, the advertising executive. "California will be
tougher, maybe a lot tougher."
Equally challenging will be New York, where 86 percent of the
Hispanic vote went to Mr. Clinton in 1996.
Mr. Bush's main challenger for the Republican presidential
nomination, Senator John McCain of Arizona, who received most
of the Hispanic vote in his last election, acknowledged today
that his party has been badly scarred by battles over bilingual
education, immigration and affirmative action.
"It took a long time to cause the Hispanics to leave our
party," Mr. McCain said between campaign stops in New Hampshire,
"and it's going to take a very long time to get them back,
especially in California. We have a long way to go."