- The Washington Times - Friday, August 4, 2000

PHILADELPHIA Republicans think they are finally catching up with Democrats in the art of appealing to Hispanic voters, showcasing at the Republican National Convention a variety of Hispanics and a generous helping of Spanish in the speeches.
The roster of speakers has been packed with Hispanic officials and citizens. Presidential candidate George W. Bush's nephew, George P. Bush, who is himself Hispanic, spoke Thursday night, as did California Assemblyman Abel Moldonado, who delivered the first Spanish speech at a Republican convention.
"You see, I am an American, but like many, I come from a diverse background," said the younger Mr. Bush, son of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and his Mexican-born wife. "And I am really proud of it, and I respect leaders who respect my heritage."
Democrats first began targeting Hispanics 40 years ago when John F. Kennedy's novel "Viva Kennedy" campaign helped propel him to the White House in an incredibly tight race against Republican Richard Nixon.
Although polls show that Hispanics generally agree with Republicans on education and social issues such as abortion, Hispanic voters have flocked to the Democrats, particularly in recent years.
Many Hispanics were offended by Republican support for tough new immigration controls passed in 1996 and a series of California ballot initiatives in the 1990s that curtailed affirmative action, bilingual education and government benefits for illegal immigrants.
In 1996, Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole managed to win only about 20 percent of the Hispanic vote nationwide, compared with almost 75 percent for President Clinton.
Mr. Bush has made a serious effort to reach out to Hispanic groups, particularly in California, home to a third of all Hispanics in the United States. Convention organizers were careful to scatter Hispanic names and faces throughout the four-day program.
"I think it's trying to make up for lost time," said Harry Pachon, president of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute, a nonpartisan Hispanic research center in California. "It's a really unprecedented effort to reach out to Hispanics. It even exceeds the Democratic Party for having Latino faces and voices."
Mr. Pachon said the Hispanic community will likely react well to the effort, putting tremendous pressure on Democrats to respond at their convention later this month in Los Angeles.
"It doesn't matter what [Republicans] say, it is that they have done it" that impresses Hispanics, he said. "The fact that they have Latino faces on the television, that you're hearing Spanish, has a very positive effect."
Polls show that Mr. Bush is already doing better among Hispanics than previous Republican contenders.
A spring poll by Mr. Pachon's organization showed Mr. Bush with 26 percent support among Hispanics in the key Los Angeles area. It is far from a majority, but it is twice what Mr. Dole managed and it might be enough to decide a tight election.
"If Bush gets 30 percent in California, Democrats are in trouble," Mr. Pachon said.
The Bush campaign admits they have little chance to take a majority of the Hispanic vote, but they are keenly aware that Hispanics could be the deciding swing vote in a tight national election. Hispanics account for about 11 percent of the U.S. population and almost a third of the population in the critical battleground of California.
"We hope to do better than previous Republican presidential candidates, but we also realize this is a long-term process," said Bush campaign spokesman Ray Sullivan. "It's not just about winning an election; it's about changing our culture and the way we are perceived in the Hispanic community."
Mr. Bush, who speaks "conversational" Spanish according to staff, has made aggressive efforts with Hispanics since he was elected governor of Texas in 1994. He received 49 percent of the Hispanic vote in his 1998 reelection bid and has made a point of speaking to Hispanic groups throughout his presidential bid.
But Republican Hispanics say they are weary of hearing that the GOP is traditionally hostile to their interests. State Rep. Joe Nunez of Colorado said the effort to reach out to Hispanics started in the 1970s.
"The door has always been open," he said.
Mr. Nunez admitted, however, that Hispanics have long sided with Democrats and that this year's convention represents a "more aggressive and more energetic" effort to reach out. He hopes the increased number of Hispanics on the podium may help Hispanics who reflexively vote Democratic to "see the light."
"I personally appreciate it when I hear George Bush, or George P., the nephew, speaking Spanish," Mr. Nunez said. "They don't have to, but it's a gesture."

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