- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 21, 2001

House Democrats were told at a closed-door strategy session yesterday that President Bush is making great gains with Hispanic voters and Democrats must pound home the election theme that Mr. Bush is not their friend.
The Democratic Hispanic strategy, presented yesterday by consultant Sergio Bendixen of Miami, emphasizes the minority groups loyalty to the Democratic Party and the message that "'W is not a good friend," according to documents prepared by his firm.
"My message is that Democrats are in deep trouble with Hispanics," Mr. Bendixen told The Washington Times yesterday. "Bush has made tremendous inroads with Hispanics, and the Democrats have no real plan to take him on."
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Connecticut Democrat and organizer of yesterdays retreat, said the session was devoted to "finding out where opportunities are and mobilizing."
Al Gore won the Hispanic vote by about 2-to-1 in last years presidential election. But Mr. Bush received 24 percent more of the Hispanic vote than did Republican Bob Dole in 1996. Mr. Bendixen said if Democrats do not arrest Mr. Bushs popularity among Hispanics, its conceivable that the president could gain 50 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004.
And Bush advisers are mindful of doing an even better job of reaching out to that voting group, as evidenced by the administrations decision last week to stop military bombing training on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques. Bush senior political adviser Karl Rove has been criticized for playing too large a role in the military matter.
Mr. Bendixen assessed Mr. Bushs Hispanic strategy as content-free, based on "radio speech symbolism, [Mexican president] Vicente Fox and other 'surrogates, and the dominance of Spanish-language television."
But he told Democrats to warn Hispanics that Mr. Bush is not fully on their side on political issues.
"The president truly connects with Hispanics and has a chemistry with them," Mr. Bendixen said. "The Bush strategy is working very, very well. But on the issues, he is not their good friend. He may not be as supportive as they want on public education or increasing the minimum wage."
He said Democrats should focus on "Hispanic issues" such as public education, minimum wage and gun control.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan took issue with the suggestion that Mr. Bushs appeal with Hispanics is more symbolic than substantive.
"The presidents agenda of improving public schools, lowering taxes for working families, reaching out to faith-based groups to help those in need and strengthening our national defense is about improving the quality of life for all Americans," Mr. McClellan said. "The Hispanic community shares the presidents commitment on many of these issues."
Donna Brazile, the Gore 2000 campaign manager, also attended yesterdays strategy session and said Mr. Bendixen emphasized the need for Democrats "to work closely with the Hispanic caucus to develop a message and surrogates to help articulate that agenda, not just in English but also in Spanish."
Democrats were chided yesterday for failing to put forward a party leader who is a spokesman for the Hispanic community.
"The Democratic Party has no national leader [for Hispanics]," Mr. Bendixen said. "They need to fight back with a strong spokesperson, which they dont have right now."
Hispanic voters are a key bloc in California, home state of three of the four incumbent House Republicans who lost last year __ Reps. James E. Rogan, Steven T. Kuykendall and Brian P. Bilbray. Since 1996, Mr. Bendixen told the Democrats, Democratic candidates are 5-0 in major statewide elections in California, with an average margin of victory of 15 percent.
Ms. Brazile said her message yesterday to House Democrats was simple: "Start early, go often and win."
"Its 503 days to the 2002 election and we have a historic opportunity to maximize what we did in 2000 and put together a real good Democratic agenda to take control of the House in 2002," she said.
Democrats gained one seat in last years House elections. With a victory in this weeks special election in Virginia, Republicans now have 222 seats to 210 for the Democrats, with two independents and one vacancy.
"This is an early time for the House Democrats to gather and to look at some of the emerging issues that will ultimately control the debate next year," Ms. Brazile said.
Mr. Bendixens clients include Telemundo in Los Angeles and Univision in Miami, Hallmark Cards and the Florida Medical Association. He was the national campaign manager from 1982 to 1984 for the presidential campaign of former Sen. Alan Cranston, the only Hispanic ever to run a major campaign for the presidency.
Hispanic voters, especially recent immigrants, are very loyal to the Democratic Party in part due to the perception that Republicans are anti-immigration, Mr. Bendixen said. Therefore, he told Democrats to play upon that party loyalty with Hispanics.
"Hispanics are the most brand-loyal group in America," Mr. Bendixen said. "Once they start buying Budweiser or Tide, they stick with it."
His list of the top 10 influential Hispanics comprises actor Edward James Olmos; former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros; Univision anchorman Jorge Ramos; Los Angeles County supervisor Gloria Molina; actor Ricardo Montalban; singer Gloria Estefan, former Energy Secretary Bill Richardson; Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, Illinois Democrat; talk-show host Cristina Saralegui and Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Florida Republican.

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