- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 8, 2002

The GOP's much ballyhooed efforts to woo Hispanic voters face a tough test this November in Texas, where Republic Gov. Rick Perry faces Democrat businessman Tony Sanchez. The last time a Hispanic ran for governor in Texas on the radical La Raza Unida ticket was 1972, which makes this a particularly uphill battle for the Republicans who must convince Hispanic voters to put ethnic pride aside.
Recent polls suggest Mr. Perry is winning handily among non-Hispanic whites but trails Mr. Sanchez among Hispanic voters by 37 percent to 58 percent. So is it time for the GOP to give up on its Hispanic strategy? Certainly not but it could use some fine tuning, and the Perry-Sanchez race will provide important lessons on the best way to attract Hispanics to the Republican Party in other states as well.
Texas has the second-largest Hispanic population 32 percent of any state. Hispanics have traditionally voted Democratic, but some Republicans have been able to attract large numbers of Hispanic voters over the years. George W. Bush got about half the Hispanic vote when he ran for re-election as Texas governor in 1998, and both Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon did very well among Hispanics in their presidential re-election bids, as did New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan.
Although Mr. Perry's Hispanic numbers don't match Mr. Bush's in 1998, they are still surprisingly strong. After all, Mr. Perry faces not only the first Hispanic to win the gubernatorial nomination of a major party in the state, but Mr. Sanchez spent almost $20 million in the Democratic primary, which bought Mr. Perry's opponent nearly universal name recognition.
Yet the Democrat Tony Sanchez isn't doing as well as you might expect. In fact, he's doing better among black voters in the state than he is among Hispanics. Some 67 percent of black voters indicated on a recent poll that they favor Mr. Sanchez, almost 10 percent higher than Mr. Sanchez's share of the Hispanic vote.
All of which suggests that maybe some Hispanic voters don't so much vote for Republican candidates as they do against certain kinds of Democrats, even if they happen to be Hispanic.
In almost every case where Republicans have done well with Hispanic voters, the Democratic candidate was left-leaning. Although Mr. Sanchez is frequently described as a conservative businessman he donated heavily to President Bush's campaigns for governor and president he ran as the more liberal candidate against another Hispanic in the Democratic primary, former state attorney general Dan Morales. What's more, Mr. Sanchez especially tried to outflank Mr. Morales on the language issue.
Mr. Sanchez insisted that Mr. Morales debate him entirely in Spanish in one televised debate, and when Mr. Morales refused answering questions in both English and Spanish Mr. Sanchez accused Mr. Morales of being insufficiently proud of his heritage by saying, "He is very ashamed and very embarrassed to be Hispanic."
Mr. Sanchez's ploy may actually have turned off some Hispanic voters in Texas. It certainly turned me off, though I don't live in the state. I'm proud of my Hispanic heritage which stretches back some 400 years in New Mexico but I don't want candidates appealing for my vote based on my ethnicity.
Worse, I hate it when candidates of either party behave as if most Hispanic voters can't understand English. It's downright insulting. English is the primary language for the majority of U.S. citizens of Hispanic heritage. While many Hispanic immigrants can't speak English, those who aren't yet citizens can't vote either. So why do candidates of both political parties insist on airing ads in Spanish?
The Republicans should learn from Tony Sanchez's mistakes. Those Hispanics who are eligible to vote tend to be better educated, have higher earnings than the overall Hispanic population, and are overwhelmingly English-speaking. They're proud of their Hispanic culture, but they are even prouder to be Americans. And they don't like being pandered to, even by one of their own.
The Republican Party will win more Hispanic votes by keeping these facts in mind than it ever will by trying to beat the Democrats at the game of ethnic identity politics.

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