- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 31, 2002

Republicans appear not to have a clue as to how to tailor their message to Hispanic voters and still hold their traditional white non-Hispanic voter base in the crucial California and Texas elections for governor.
"In California, we're going to do nothing and hope Hispanics don't know there's an election in November," quipped a Republican campaign adviser there who expects his party's Hispanic outreach effort to make a difference in future elections but not by this November.
"Republicans are in trouble for the first time in two decades in Texas," said a senior House member from Texas, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
One major problem has been the administration's effort to court Hispanic voters, especially President Bush's proposal to grant amnesty to hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants in this country. The Republican-controlled House passed the measure just before the Easter recess; now it will be taken up in the Senate.
Republican officials in both states have used the word "stunned" to describe the impact of the amnesty proposal on the Republican voting base.
Beside the opposition of many traditional Republican voters to the amnesty proposal, the Republican Party also faces the problem of how to deal with the emergence of ethnic politics in both states.
The specific problem Republicans face in Texas is that their candidate, Gov. Rick Perry, is not an Hispanic and, though studying Spanish, is far from fluent in it. However, his Democratic opponent, businessman Tony Sanchez, is an Hispanic, fluent in Spanish and already has shown a willingness to play the ethnic-language card.
Mr. Sanchez had wanted half the televised debate with his opponent in the Democratic primary to be in Spanish. His primary rival, fellow Hispanic Dan Morales, said that English is the language of the United States and charged that Mr. Sanchez was behaving as if he were running for governor of Mexico. Unfazed, Mr. Sanchez accused Mr. Morales of being "embarrassed" by his Hispanic heritage.
Texas Republicans now believe that Mr. Sanchez will use his ethnicity to appeal to the state's Hispanic voters in the race for governor against Mr. Perry. "This time, Sanchez will try to make the contest with Perry a Hispanic thing," the senior Texas congressman said. Hispanics make up 19 percent of the population of Texas.
Mr. Sanchez's campaign manger, Glenn Smith, downplays the importance of ethnicity and language and the expectation by Republicans that Mr. Sanchez will use these issues against Mr. Perry.
"It's oversimplifying to make ethnicity the issue," Mr. Smith said. "Hispanics are not born Democrats. It has never been the case and will not be this year. And Hispanic voters don't expect Perry to be fluent in Spanish. They would be honored that he tried to learn some of their language."
But the Republican congressman predicts that "Hispanics will vote as a bloc for Sanchez, so Perry cannot count on major Hispanic support the way Bush did running for governor."
Strategists in both parties agree ethnic politics will play a large role in both the Texas and California gubernatorial elections this November and with uncertain results.
Although Mr. Bush's successful 1994 and 1998 campaigns for governor showed that a Republican with the right message and personality can do well with Texas Hispanics, he never had an Hispanic opponent to test ethnic loyalty in his state.
Mr. Perry, who was lieutenant governor until Mr. Bush resigned the governorship to become president, now faces that test in the person of Mr. Sanchez.
In California, the governor's race involves no such Hispanic-Anglo candidate match-up. Nonetheless, Republican challenger William Simon has his work cut out for him, even though he faces the highly unpopular Democratic incumbent Gov. Gray Davis.
"Hispanics are critical to the November election because they're 15 percent of the electorate, 31 percent of the population in this state and vote about 70 percent Democratic," said Mr. Davis' chief campaign strategist, Gary South. "And they do have a reason to come out. We have the highest-ranking Latino office holder in America sitting here on our ticket Cruz M. Bustamante, for lieutenant governor."
While acknowledging the importance of the Hispanic vote, Simon chief strategist Sal Russo dismissed Mr. South's claim that Hispanic voters will come out to support one of their own for lieutenant governor.
"When's the last time a lieutenant governor candidate turned out the vote in any election anywhere?" Mr. Russo said.
However, what may be more important than whether Hispanics are represented in any party's ticket is the "tremendous, simmering resentment in parts of the state over what people see as a total takeover by people from Mexico," said a high-ranking California Republican Party official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Partly because of that resentment, Republicans say they will not fashion a campaign strategy targeting Hispanic voters in California.
"We are not going to run a Hispanic strategy," said Wayne Johnson, a Sacramento-based Republican campaign strategist who has been promoting Hispanic outreach. "Hispanic turnout is going to be low, as will turnout in general. Besides, our party has a record of ham-fisted attempts to appeal to Hispanic voters."
Mr. Bush's amnesty proposal is not going to be used as an issue to appeal to Hispanics in California because it may backfire on Republicans, creating the public impression that they are shamelessly pandering to the Hispanic vote.
"Given our party's history in California, trying to capitalize on that [amnesty] vote could very well be seen as patronizing by Hispanic voters," Mr. Johnson said.

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