- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 14, 2001

The Republican Party is going back to basics to court Hispanics, considered the most coveted voting bloc of the next presidential election.
"The Democrats are taking Hispanic voters for granted on core issues like family values, education, economic opportunity," Dallas Lawrence of GOPAC, a conservative Republican interest group, said yesterday. "We are out to earn some credentials in the Hispanic community."
The group means to get down to brass tacks on a local level.
On Saturday, GOPAC joins forces with the California Chapter of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly (RNHA) in Los Angeles, offering daylong training sessions for Spanish-speaking political activists, first-time candidates and community leaders.
"We want to show participants the nuts and bolts of political activism," Mr. Lawrence said. "We want to show a Hispanic candidate how to run, and how to win."
GOPAC and the RNHA will repeat the sessions in Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, Texas, New York and Virginia by year's end, focusing on specific ways to reach a diverse voting bloc with powerful potential.
There are some emotional underpinnings as well.
"We understand that it is here in the Cuban, Puerto Rican, Mexican and Latin American communities that the optimistic and inclusive Republican Party of President Bush will truly emerge as America's majority governing party," Mr. Lawrence said.
It is a complicated situation, however.
With his Texan heritage, conversational Spanish and Hispanic relatives, Mr. Bush was deft in his outreach during the presidential election, eventually winning 38 percent of the Hispanic vote. During the 1996 campaign, Republican candidate Bob Dole managed only about 20 percent.
Democrats targeted the group four decades ago after John F. Kennedy's "Viva Kennedy" campaign helped give him the edge against Republican Richard Nixon in a tight race.
Hispanics have also taken issue with Republican support for immigration controls and California ballot initiatives that curtailed social and educational benefits for illegal immigrants in the 1990s.
GOP hopes, however, remain high.
"The president currently has a 59 percent approval rating among Hispanics. They are finally listening to our message and realizing we share the same values," said Sharon Castillo of the Republican National Committee. "The GOP is the best ticket to the American dream."
Former President Ronald Reagan, she said, "got it right years ago when he said, 'Hispanics are Republicans. They just don't know it yet.'"
The upcoming training sessions (www.gopac.org ) will include hands-on workshops, printed manuals, news conferences in Spanish and English. It is never too late, organizers say, to plan for 2004.
"But we're also looking at 2001, specifically New Jersey and Virginia," said GOPAC's Mr. Lawrence.
"For too long, candidates and political parties have simply paid lip service to the Latino community," said Los Angeles-based Republican pollster Michael Madrid, who specializes in Latino voting trends.
"With President Bush and his optimist and inclusive message," he said, "the Republican Party has a unique opportunity to make tremendous inroads within the diverse ethnicities of this rapidly growing voting bloc."

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