- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 22, 2002

President Bush has turned his personal connection with Hispanic voters and his considerable outreach efforts to them into substantial political support but the Republican Party as a whole lags far behind, according to a new poll on the Hispanic electorate done for the New Democrat Network.
Hispanics rated the president over Democrats on a range of issues, said pollster Sergio Bendixen. They prefer Mr. Bush by 49 points on preventing terrorism, by 23 points on improving relations with Latin America and by 16 points on supporting family values. On education, controlling taxes and spending and even immigration, he is in a statistical tie.
The poll, of 800 registered Hispanic voters, was taken earlier this month over a two-week period and has a 3 percent margin of error. Questions were in either English or Spanish.
Mr. Bush has leaped from 35 percent support among Hispanics in his 2000 race against Al Gore to a dead heat in a hypothetical rematch in Mr. Bendixen's poll. He has also reversed his approval ratings, going from 38 percent positive in 2000 to 76 percent positive now among Hispanics.
But even as he excels, his party does not: Hispanics favor Democratic candidates more than 2-to-1 over Republicans going into this year's congressional elections and also favor Democrats over Republicans by wide margins on issues important to them.
The difference, Mr. Bendixen said, is that the Republican Party retains an anti-immigrant stigma from the 1990s while the president does not.
"Right now he's been successful in removing the word 'Republican' from his name," he said, pointing out how the president connects with Hispanic voters in a personal sense.
Mr. Bendixen said that shows in the fact that the president is "much more charismatic on Spanish-language television than he is on English-language television."
Rep. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat and a Congressional Hispanic Caucus member who commissioned the poll along with the New Democrat Network, said it presents both a "wake-up call as well as an opportunity."
He said the president's numbers were impressive, but that the poll shows immigration could be Republicans' Achilles' heel. The poll found 86 percent of Hispanics supported a legalization program of some kind; 84 percent said more needs to be done to protect the rights of illegal immigrants.
Respondents gave Democrats a 31 percent margin over Republicans when asked which party is better on immigration.
While Mr. Bush has pushed for a limited amnesty for illegal aliens who have overstayed their entry visas, a majority of House Republicans have opposed the plan. The president also won food-stamp benefits for legal immigrants over the objection of many Republicans.
Sharon Castillo, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee who was hired away from a Spanish-language news program, said the numbers show Latino voters like the president's positions.
"For those candidates out there who are campaigning on the issues the president has put forth, I think we'll see positive results," she said. "I think Latinos will vote on the issues."
In terms of concrete effects, Mr. Bendixen said Mr. Bush's numbers mean California could be a possibility in the 2004 elections.


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