- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 23, 1999

A recent poll showing that Texas Gov. George W. Bush is getting the support of 52 percent of Hispanics against Al Gore sent shock waves through the vice president's campaign and his political allies at La Raza, a left-leaning Hispanic advocacy organization.

In a head-to-head poll by the Wall Street Journal, which received little if any national news media attention, Mr. Bush soundly beat Mr. Gore by 52 percent to 41 percent among the largest and fastest-growing minority in the country. Mr. Bush also beats Bill Bradley in this group, but by a smaller margin: 44 percent to 41 percent.

The numbers show that Mr. Bush's "politics of aspiration" is striking a responsive chord among hard-working, culturally conservative Hispanic voters, who are drawn to his message of inclusion, opportunity and achieving the American dream.

It is the very same message that Ronald Reagan crafted in 1980, when he reached out to the nation's immigrant population. Mr. Reagan's landslide 1984 re-election stands as the high-water mark of Hispanic support for a Republican presidential candidate. Mr. Reagan won 37 percent of their vote.

This latest poll is a devastating rejection of those within the party who have tried to make immigrants, Hispanics in particular, a wedge issue. Mr. Bush wants no part of that kind of racial politics, as exemplified by the anti-immigrant ballot initiatives in California that led to a huge 1998 Hispanic vote for Democrats, who took over the state and now threaten to redistrict half a dozen or more Republican congressional seats out of existence.

But the latest numbers also send a devastating signal to the Demo-crats, led by Mr. Gore and Mr. Bradley, that what the centrist Democratic Leadership Council calls the "politics of grievance" does not work anymore with Hispanics, who boast the fastest new-business creation rate among any minority group in the country.

Hispanics want a larger economic stake in the country. Mr. Bush's tax-rate cuts, his $1,000 per child tax credits for families, his elimination of death taxes, and other ideas for boosting access to the middle class strongly appeal to this key Democratic voting bloc. President Clinton was re-elected in 1996 with the help of 72 percent of the Hispanic vote.

"A lot of Hispanics dream of owning their own business, and he appeals to that with his message and with his tax cuts for small business people," says Raul Romero, a Houston businessman who is raising funds for Mr. Bush in the Hispanic community.

Unlike the Democrats, Mr. Bush "is not selling quotas or things like that. Hispanics dream of having a stake in the country, so his message that you can be what you want to be is uplifting and inclusive, and they are responding to that," Mr. Romero says.

"Bush has taken a completely different approach to Hispanics. His attitude is 100 percent different. He's not using the wedge that Republicans have used in the past. He's not sending out vibes to Hispanics that 'I'm picking on you,' " said Brent Wilkes, the national executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, the largest Hispanic organization in the United States.

"Our organization supports Bush's tax-cut plan. We think it's pretty good and will help Hispanics," Mr. Wilkes told me.

But a major part of Mr. Bush's appeal, says Mr. Wilkes, is that he is reaching out to Hispanics and personally campaigning for their support in their communities something they haven't seen in a long time from a Republican presidential candidate. "That in itself explains why he is getting a large share of the Hispanic vote," he says.

Over at the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic organization that tilts heavily toward Democratic orthodoxy, chief spokeswoman Lisa Navarrete says that the polling numbers were much larger than anyone at La Raza ever expected.

She thinks the new numbers represent "a sea change" among Hispanic voters. She admits to being "surprised that the national numbers" are so high so early in the campaign.

"You have a candidate who shows that he wants to be more inclusive, and Latinos have responded well to that," she said. "He never goes into a school where you do not see him with Hispanic children."

Yet there is something deeper going one here, say Hispanic leaders I talked to last week. It is a rejection of the Democrats' paternalistic, government-centered message, and its a rejection of being taken for granted by Mr. Gore and his party.

"Democrats tell us we have to complain and fight for more government programs," Mr. Romero told me. But Hispanics are showing new interest in such ideas as investing for their own retirement, building a business with lower tax rates, and school vouchers to send their children to better schools.

Mr. Gore's ultraliberal campaign manager, Donna Brazile, enraged many Hispanics when she recently characterized the Democratic Party as being made up of "four pillars," including blacks, labor, women "and other minorities."

"She mentioned every group except Hispanics, and I think Hispanics are tired of being taken for granted by the Democrats," said Roberto Deposada, executive director of the Hispanic Business Roundtable.

Such is the level of deep alienation from the Democratic Party that is now sweeping the ranks of the Hispanic community in the presidential race. If it holds up, it could give Mr. Bush the highest Hispanic vote ever achieved by a Republican nominee, and with it, the presidency itself.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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