- The Washington Times - Friday, November 22, 2002

Political candidates did more than ever this year to reach out to Hispanic voters, running a record number of Spanish-language television ads during the campaign, and Republicans claimed solid successes from the efforts.

At least 20 gubernatorial candidates, six U.S. Senate candidates, more than a dozen U.S. House candidates and many more down-ballot candidates ran Spanish-language ads this year, spending more than $16 million, according to a report released yesterday by Adam Segal, director of the Hispanic Voter Project at Johns Hopkins University.

Although spending was less than 2 percent of the more than $1 billion laid out for political ads this year, five candidates crossed the threshold of spending at least $1 million on Spanish-language ads.

In many of the governors' races the amount of spending was low, but Mr. Segal said it reflects a growing trend of reaching out to Hispanic voters.

"Candidates in a growing number of states are beginning to make Spanish-language advertising a permanent part of their campaign communications strategy," he said.

Republicans and Democrats alike see Hispanics as a swing-vote population in future elections, particularly since they are such a fast-increasing segment of voters.

President Bush has directed the Republican National Committee to try to make inroads with Hispanic voters, and Sergio Bendixen, a strategist who has also conducted polls of the Hispanic electorate, said Republicans made "some important gains" this year.

No polling from the Voter News Service, the usual method for dissecting the results of elections, will be released for this year.

But Mr. Bendixen cited one postelection survey that found an 8 percent swing in Hispanic votes in congressional races from 2000 to 2002. It found nationwide that 60 percent voted for a Democratic congressional candidate, down from 64 percent in 2000, while 39 percent voted for a Republican, up from 35 percent in 2000.

According to Frank Guerra, a Republican Spanish-media consultant, Texas Republicans usually count on a base of 25 percent of the Hispanic vote, and if they can top 30 percent in statewide races they almost always win. Preliminary studies show Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican who succeeded Mr. Bush as governor, won another term with 35 percent of the Hispanic vote while facing Tony Sanchez, a well-funded Hispanic businessman.

And in Florida, Mr. Guerra said, Gov. Jeb Bush won 65 percent of the Hispanic vote, including nearly 80 percent of the Cuban-American vote, which is reliably Republican. But Mr. Bush also won more than half of the non-Cuban vote.

"For the first time, in a significant way, you've got a candidate breaking that barrier with the non-Cuban, historically Democratic base," Mr. Guerra said.

Democrats, however, did well among Hispanics in California. Mr. Bendixen said Gov. Gray Davis overcame substantial negative press among Spanish-language news outlets for having vetoed a bill that would have allowed illegal immigrants to obtain a driver's license. In the end, he won about 70 percent of the Hispanic vote.

Mr. Bendixen, though, said when taken as a measure of Hispanic political power, the elections were "mediocre at best."

He lamented the failures of both Mr. Sanchez in Texas and, Antonio Villaraigosa, who lost his bid last year to become mayor of Los Angeles. Mr. Bendixen said a major reason for their defeats could be attributed to their opponents' strategy of trying to link them to drug traffickers.

"When a Latino gets close to being able to win a contest the common attack now is drugs, and that's a sure way to destroy the candidacy," Mr. Bendixen said.

In Texas, he said, accusations that the bank Mr. Sanchez ran had laundered drug cartel money resulted in the Democrat garnering only 28 percent of the white vote.

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