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Associated Press

Political Parties Court Hispanic Vote


March 14, 2003
Copyright © 2003
Associated Press. All rights reserved. 

WASHINGTON - Click on the Web sites of the national political parties or some of the Democratic presidential candidates and you can read their statements in Spanish.

Listen to John Kerry stumping for votes, and you might hear the Massachusetts senator speaking Spanish; he's been practicing with language tapes the last few years.

Like the 2000 White House rivals George W. Bush and Al Gore, who occasionally made their appeals in Spanish, the current candidates are trying to burnish their images with Hispanic voters. Leaders in the community, however, expect more than just lip service.

"Both parties have to fight for the hearts and minds of Hispanic voters," said Gabriela Lemus, a policy specialist for the League of United Latin American Citizens. "It's not enough to speak Spanish to us. We're being acknowledged, but window dressing isn't going to do it."

Hispanics expect significant progress from the Bush administration or concrete proposals from the Democratic candidates on core issues such as education, employment, immigration and health care. Specifically, Hispanics want:

Access to quality education and the ability to get their children into college. About two-thirds of Hispanics in this country are 25 or younger.

Resumption of talks with Mexico about immigration policy and inclusion of other Latin American countries in those talks, as well as access to citizenship and benefits for immigrants who are already working in this country or are in this country trying to find work.

Quality jobs and access to quality health care.

The Hispanic vote was crucial to President Bush's election in 2000. Previous Republican presidential nominees failed to break 30 percent among Hispanic voters — Bob Dole garnered 21 percent in 1996 and Bush's father got 25 percent in 1992. The president secured 35 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2000.

In return for that support, Hispanics expected the administration to push changes in immigration rules. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, though, dampened enthusiasm to open the nation's borders further or ease regulations.

"The outreach efforts get the attention of the community, but there needs to be some proof that action follows outreach," said Clarissa Martinez, a policy specialist at the National Council of La Raza. "We are hopeful that the Bush administration will prove it plans to make the tent bigger."

Hispanics represent a key voting bloc in electorally rich states such as California, Florida, New York and Texas. Hispanic registered voters totaled 7.5 million in the 2000 Census.

Republicans are eager to recruit more Hispanic candidates. This weekend in Missouri, the GOP is holding the first of 20 or more recruitment seminars planned around the country for potential Hispanic candidates. Candidates will learn about getting started in politics, fund raising and dealing with the media.

As of June 2002, there were 1,521 elected Democratic Hispanics and 116 elected Republican Hispanics, said Larry Gonzalez of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials. Polls suggest that almost two-thirds of Hispanic voters identify themselves as Democrats, a fifth as Republicans and the rest independent, said Rodolfo de la Garza, a political scientist at Columbia University.

But Republicans hope to capitalize on the Democratic filibuster of Bush's nomination of Miguel Estrada to a federal appeals court. In the Senate Thursday, the GOP fell five votes short of the 60 necessary to end the filibuster.

"The Democrats think they own the Hispanic community and don't want to give a Republican president a political victory," said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.

White House political adviser Karl Rove has worked hard at courting Hispanic voters. New Jersey Rep. Bob Menendez, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said Rove "gets it. And hopefully so do the leaders of the Democratic Party."

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