- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 4, 2000

Republicans are California dreaming in Spanish.From San Diego to Sacramento, reporters have noted the delight that Hispanics from businessmen to waitresses take in Republican George W. Bush's Mexican-inflected Spanish and warmth.
A mid-December poll by John Zogby, who most accurately forecast the 1996 presidential election, shows the Republican presidential candidate making the kind of move that threatens Democrats in California.
His latest poll found Hispanics in the state are "more likely than voters nationwide to feel they pay too much in taxes and would like a tax rebate."
"This is a Republican issue and suggests the race could be more competitive in California among Hispanic voters," Mr. Zogby said.
Stuart Deveaux, the California Republican Party's communications director, said the Democrats' problem is that Mr. Bush already is "in the high 20s among Hispanics and rising."
Hispanic voters make up an estimated 12 percent to 18 percent of the state's electorate, and Republicans figure they can take the state if they attract more than a third of them.
"If Bush gets a percentage in the high 30s with Hispanics in California, it will make it very difficult for Gore to carry California. It all depends on how Bush does with every other group in the state," said state Sen. James Brulte, California Republican Party finance chairman.
Among California's Spanish-speaking Hispanics, Mr. Gore barely leads Mr. Bush, by 40 percent to 35 percent, according to the Zogby poll. Mr. Gore runs far ahead among Hispanics who speak English 52 percent to 35. But in each case, Mr. Bush hits close to the necessary percentage forecast by state Republicans.
Mr. Bush already has a history of Hispanic support, winning an unprecedented 49 percent of their vote in his re-election as governor. He won 69 percent of the overall vote.
His nearest presidential rival, Arizona Sen. John McCain, also is popular with Hispanics, having won 52 percent of their vote in his 1998 Senate re-election.
"Either McCain or Bush would go into a general election in a much stronger position in California than any Republican candidate in recent years," said McCain spokesman Dan Schnur.
But polls and recent history caution against Republican overconfidence.
"I would still give the edge to the Democrats in California, but on some issues, Republicans could make inroads," said Mr. Zogby, an independent pollster.
His poll shows some weaknesses as well, most notably that Mr. Bush is having trouble pushing his percentage beyond the mid-30s among Hispanics.
Asked who would give the best moral leadership for the country, Hispanics picked Mr. Gore over Mr. Bush by 49 percent to 35 percent.
Still, Democrats realize what is at stake in California. "The West California, Oregon and Washington is key to the Democrats winning the White House, and California is the monster of the West," state Democratic strategist Bob Mulholland said.
California's 54 electoral votes alone account for exactly 20 percent of the 270 votes needed to win in the Electoral College. Polls show Mr. Bush leads Mr. Gore by 16 percentage points in Washington, 21 in Oregon, and is neck-and-neck with him in California.
"Democrats can't win without California," said David Israelite, political director for the Republican National Committee.
Mr. Mulholland said Democrats should do well in the state because "California Hispanics are overwhelmingly pro-choice." But polls differ on the issue.
While a Wall Street Journal national poll found 70 percent of Hispanics think abortion is a matter best left to a woman and her doctor, Mr. Zogby's poll found 69 percent of California Hispanic voters say abortion is manslaughter; 58 percent call it murder.
Republican presidential candidates have fared poorly in the state for the last couple of elections.
In 1996, Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole won 20 percent of the California Hispanic vote and lost the state to President Clinton.
Like Mr. Dole, President Bush lost the state and the presidency in 1992. "Republican legislators here were upset that neither Bush Sr. nor Dole actively campaigned in California," said Mr. Deveaux. "Both, in fact, pulled out early."
George W. Bush appears determined not to repeat those mistakes.
His father did not hire even a spokesman in California for his presidential campaign until four months before the 1992 nominating convention. By last July, the Texas governor already had four permanent California staff members and hired two more last month.
"That's a huge difference from 1992," said Bush California spokesman Margita Thompson, who is of Mexican descent.
Mr. Deveaux said things do seem different this time. "George W. Bush has the largest volunteer organization in the state, his credibility rises every time he comes here, and every time he comes, he does Latino events."
Mr. Israelite said the RNC already has "formulated an ad campaign targeted toward the Hispanic community."
But so have Democrats, who will use "guns, choice and the environment" against Mr. Bush if he is the nominee, Mr. Mulholland said.

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