- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 29, 2004

During the just-completed presidential campaign, and in anticipation of 2008, Republicans and Democrats are trying to zero in on, and please, the one very powerful special-interest group they feel not only decided this election, but will decide the next, and more presidential elections to follow. That group? Hispanic American voters.

Both parties (as well as every business in the nation) are now desperately trying to gauge the importance and growth of the Latino vote and the Latino dollar. While shopping with my wife the other day, we came across a critical measurement of that importance and growth.

For the last seven years, we have used the same supermarket down the street from our home. Seven years ago, this supermarket had maybe one-fourth of one aisle dedicated to Hispanic American shoppers. When walking into this same supermarket the other day, I was pleased to see that almost one-fourth of the entire store was now dedicated to this growing and powerful consumer base. And just for clarification, this is a supermarket not based in a city, but located in one of the wealthiest counties in the United States.

As a Republican married to a very capable woman from South America, I take some degree of pride in this newfound respect for a people and a culture that contributes so greatly to our welfare — the importance of which I have stressed for years, both privately and publicly, to any in the Republican Party who would listen. This was a message that until recently was not received warmly by some in my party, with one notable exception: George W. Bush.

In 1987, when I was a communicator on the campaign of then- Vice President Bush, I had the rare opportunity to talk with George W. Bush about this very subject. With just he and I in his office, he stressed the importance of the Republican Party reaching out to Hispanic and minority voters and how it was our duty to expand the tent. Seventeen years later, President Bush is still pushing that message.

This clearly paid dividends for him in the past election. According to a just-released National Annenberg Election Survey, Mr. Bush’s vote total among Hispanic males went from 34 percent in 2000 to 46 percent in 2004. His vote total among Hispanic women went from 35 percent in 2000 to 36 percent in 2004. Every friend that I speak with in the Democratic Party tells me privately that this is the one trend that strikes fear into their hearts. They worry that they are losing the confidence of the most powerful special-interest group in the nation. Worse, they are not sure of the steps needed to win back these heretofore traditionally Democratic voters.

As they ponder that question, should anyone in their or my party doubt the growing influence of Hispanic-Americans, then I suggest you simply stroll into your local supermarket and look at the shelves. As I joked to my wife on the way out of the store, “In a few years, we are going to come in here and find only one aisle dedicated to ‘American’ shoppers.”

That is a future that I for one, will not fear.

Douglas MacKinnon was press secretary to former Sen. Bob Dole. He is also a former White House and Pentagon official and a novelist.

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