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Democrats Wooing Hispanic Voters…Criticize Bush

Democrats Wooing Hispanic Voters

September 3, 2003
Copyright © 2003
The Santa Fe New Mexican. All rights reserved. 

ALBUQUERQUE -- Democrats want to send a clear message to Hispanics during the party's first televised presidential primary debate:

Queremos tu voto -- we want your vote.

It's no coincidence Thursday's debate will be peppered with Spanish, co-sponsored and produced by the country's largest Spanish- language network and broadcast from a state with a large Hispanic population and the country's only Hispanic governor.

"We wanted the entire theme to be reaching out to Hispanic American families," said Debra DeShong, communications director for the Democratic National Committee.

Gov. Bill Richardson lobbied national Democrats to bring the first debate to his state.

Hispanics, the country's largest and fastest growing minority group, account for about 42 percent of New Mexico's population.

"I believe Hispanics will be the key voting bloc in four battleground states -- in New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and Florida," Richardson said. "And I believe those four states will decide the presidency."

President Bush has long courted Hispanics, often injecting Spanish into his campaign speeches and television ads. While previous Republican presidential nominees failed to break 30 percent among Hispanic voters, Bush secured 35 percent in 2000.

Nationwide, Hispanic registered voters totaled 7.5 million in the 2000 Census.

New Mexico Democrats have a prominent place in the presidential primary calendar with a Feb. 3 caucus date, four months earlier than the June primary elections.

The visibility and political importance of Thursday's debate and of the subsequent caucus signal "that New Mexico is playing a role in national politics for the first time," Richardson said.

Richardson, a leading Democrat on the national scene, is co- hosting the debate at the University of New Mexico with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

The event will be moderated by public television correspondent Ray Suarez and Univision anchor Maria Elena Salinas, who plans to question candidates in English and Spanish.

It will be carried live on public television with a live second audio track of Spanish translation for people who have a so-called SAP function on their television sets. On Saturday, Univision will air a translated version of the debate.

Organizers are billing it as a first-of-its-kind bilingual debate, although there are no formal organizations that track the formats of primary debates to verify the claim. It's the first time Univision is producing and sponsoring a presidential debate.

"The premise of the debate is to help set the tone of the role of the Hispanic community in setting the national political landscape," said Vanessa Gonzalez, communications director of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

During a telephone interview in Spanish from Univision's Miami newsroom, Salinas said she will make a point of asking about issues - - such as immigration, child health care and the high school dropout rate -- that are of particular interest to the Hispanic community.

The Census Bureau reported that Hispanics make up an increasingly disproportionate share of the nation's high school dropouts; they also rank low for health care coverage among children.

Asking questions in both languages is, in part, a step toward inclusion for Spanish-speaking listeners, Salinas said.

Organizers said they are not aware of any candidate who speaks Spanish fluently but anticipate some will try to speak a little Spanish.

To resonate with Hispanic voters, Salinas said candidates must move beyond generalities when discussing how issues, such as education, health care and the economy, affect Hispanics.

Hispanics are demanding specific responses and possible solutions.

The message to candidates pursuing the Hispanic vote: "The field is completely open," Salinas said.

Democrats, Criticize Bush, Appeal To Hispanics

By Jill Lawrence, USA TODAY

September 5, 2003
Copyright © 2003 USA TODAY
. All rights reserved. 

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

ALBUQUERQUE – Democratic presidential candidates attacked President Bush on Thursday night for failures in planning for postwar Iraq and sought to emphasize their own national security credentials and experience. But in the early minutes, the field avoided internal squabbling in a major party-sponsored debate.

Dean: "We were wrong to go in without the U.N."

Howard Dean, the new front-runner among nine Democrats seeking the nomination, said, "Fortunately the president is beginning to see the light" about the need for international help in Iraq. But the United States is faced with going back to the same nations the president "humiliated" before the war, he said. "We were wrong to go in without the U.N.," Dean said.

Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, whose standing in the Democratic field has been most damaged by Dean's rise, said seeking help from other nations will improve the international standing of the United States. But he added, "We need a president who will get it right in the beginning."

Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut defended his own vote in favor of going to war against Iraq, and Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri accused Bush of breaking apart international alliances that both parties have built over the past 70 years. Gephardt called Bush "a miserable failure" on the war.

Thursday night's event was the first of six party-sanctioned debates that will be held before the initial votes are cast in January to select a Democratic opponent for Bush.

Eight of the nine Democratic candidates attended; Al Sharpton missed the event because of a flight delay.

By design, the debate showcased the party's commitment to Hispanic voters. By its timing, it also showcased the new dynamics of a field suddenly dominated by Dean, a former Vermont governor.

When he was obscure and needed attention, Dean got it by attacking his rivals. But now some of them are targeting him. Lieberman has called him unelectable because of his opposition to the Iraq war.

Kerry, who has seen his poll numbers plummet as Dean surges, said this week on his campaign plane that "Howard Dean's opposition to the war was wrong" because "you can't just walk away" from a threat like Saddam Hussein.

In speeches and interviews this week, Kerry repeatedly said it was no time for a president who needs "on-the-job training." He said last Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press that "Howard Dean has zero experience in international affairs." He told reporters that Dean's plan to balance the federal budget in three years would bring pain. He said he would never want to be the candidate of the National Rifle Association, which endorsed Dean during his time as governor.

Both parties are fighting hard for Hispanics, a fast-growing and diverse group that's about 10% of the voting-age population but was only about 6.5% of the electorate in 2000.

Democrats traditionally have captured large majorities of Hispanics, but Republicans are hoping to make major inroads. President Bush received 35% of the Hispanic vote in the 2000 election and is aiming for 40% this time.

The Democrats' debate site, hosts and moderators all were tailored to Hispanics:

New Mexico and Arizona are holding nominating contests Feb. 3, giving them and their large Hispanic populations a prominent role in choosing the Democratic nominee.

• Hosts for the debate were New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who is Hispanic, and members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

• The moderators were Maria Elena Salina of the Univision Spanish-language TV network and Ray Suarez of PBS.

• The debate was broadcast live on PBS with a live alternate feed in Spanish, and Univision was scheduled to air the event Saturday morning.

In a major new analysis of Hispanic voters released this week, 37% said they were Democrats and 18% said they were Republicans. Nearly two-thirds of all Hispanics in the National Annenberg Election Survey of 2000 held economic views shared by a majority of Democrats. For instance, 64% said the government should work to reduce income disparities among people.

But the analysis, based on an unusually large sample of 4,676 Hispanics, also found that party leaning was linked to income. That bolsters Republican arguments that the GOP will attract more Hispanic support as Hispanics become more affluent.

The six debates sponsored by the Democratic National Committee – including Thursday's – initially were proposed to substitute for a plethora of forums and cattle calls sponsored by interest groups and local parties all over the country. Instead the DNC debates have turned out to be in addition to the scores of other events. In fact, there already has been a candidates' debate devoted to Hispanic issues. The National Association of Latino Elected Officials sponsored it in Phoenix in June.

Contributing: Jim Drinkard in Washington

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