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San Jose Mercury News

No Big Shift By Latinos Toward GOP

by Mary Anne Ostrom

November 19, 2000
Copyright © 2000 San Jose Mercury News. All Rights Reserved.

Republicans targeted Latinos in 2000 in the hope those voters would become the ``new soccer moms,'' the suburban women who were the key swing voters of the 1990s.

But, in the end, exit polls show Latinos didn't swing as much as the GOP predicted. By a 2-1 ratio, they stuck to their Democratic roots, giving the Democrats an important edge in the closely divided election.

There were ``two standard stories,'' said R. Michael Alvarez, an associate professor of political science at the California Institute of Technology. ``Partisanship is critical and the incumbency factor is important. Al Gore represented an administration Latinos have done well under.''

Republicans, led by George W. Bush, had courted Latinos in unprecedented ways, arguing the party was a better fit for an ethnic group that is moving up the economic ladder and holds some conservative social views. Democrats appealed to many Latinos who believe that an activist government best serves them to gain education and economic opportunities.

The Democrats -- who now count heavily on Latino voters to win in places, such as California, with high concentrations of minorities -- won this round. Latinos in New Mexico, who voted 2-1 for Gore and make up one-third of the state's electorate, put the state in play for the vice president. Gore appears to have won the state, but the final vote count had not yet been certified as of Saturday afternoon.

Although Latinos are not as reliably Democratic as African-Americans, the election results also underscore just how deep their support for Democrats runs.

The 2000 elections come at the end of a decade that saw record Latino registration -- driven by a burgeoning voter-age population, immigration and distaste for GOP efforts in California and Congress to ban affirmative action and aid for illegal immigrants.

Latinos are, in fact, the fastest-growing ethnic segment of the electorate.

About 600,000 more Latino voters cast ballots Nov. 7 than in 1996, according to exit-poll estimates. Latinos now are between 5 and 7 percent of the national electorate, and are catching up to African-Americans, who make up 10 percent of voters.

And while the Republicans didn't fare as well with Latinos as they hoped this year, their efforts did not go completely unrewarded.

Bush regained the level of Latino support his father enjoyed in his elections, winning about one-third of the vote nationally. That was considerably better than Bob Dole's 21 percent four years ago, but still below Ronald Reagan's 40 percent -- the target some GOP leaders had publicly set earlier this year.

Many Republicans had counted on Bush's popularity in Texas to help reverse the party's fortunes with Latinos nationally. He polled just 11 points behind Gore among Texas Latinos. But the home-state advantage did not translate nationally. Bush was crushed in New York and in California, which is home to up to one-quarter of the national Latino electorate.

Gore won the overall popular vote in California by 12 points. But among Latinos -- who made up 14 percent of the state's electorate -- he beat Bush by at least 39 points, exit polls found.

But as significant as the challenge is for the GOP, the election results also sent the equivalent of a warning shot across the Democrats' bow. The Republicans are beginning to make some progress among a constituency that has become essential to the Democrats. Gore's California victory -- worth 54 Electoral College votes -- appears to be due entirely to support from Latinos and other minorities, including Asian-American and African-American voters. Among non-Latino white voters, Bush and Gore essentially split the vote.

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