- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 30, 2003

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Hispanic voters, 16 percent of California’s electorate and three times as likely to favor Democrats over Republicans, are poised to play an important — and perhaps deciding — role in the upcoming recall election.

The prospect of electing the state’s first Hispanic governor in more than a century if Gov. Gray Davis is recalled is rallying some support for Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante. Several recent surveys show him leading Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger by a double-digit margin among likely Hispanic voters.

But large numbers of Hispanics remain undecided — 36 percent according to the Public Policy Institute of California and 14 percent according to the Field Institute.

With five weeks left for candidates to win their support, attention is going to issues seen as important to Hispanic voters.

Mr. Bustamante, the grandson of Mexican immigrants, is reminding audiences of his working-class roots as he makes the round of Hispanic organizations.

Mr. Davis has dropped Spanish phrases in his speeches and touted his willingness to give driver’s licenses to some undocumented immigrants, a measure he rejected last year.

Austrian-born Mr. Schwarzenegger is playing up his own immigration story and this week tapped a Hispanic hero — Jaime Escalante, the former East Los Angeles calculus teacher portrayed in the film “Stand and Deliver” — to join his education advisory team.

In a race in which votes could be split among several candidates, the one who is able to solidify Hispanic support could be the one to win, said Harry Pachon, president of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute think tank based at the University of Southern California.

“That 16 percent of California voters, especially if you get a block of them, becomes very significant,” Mr. Pachon said.

But Mr. Bustamante can’t assume he has a lock on Hispanic voters, said Melinda Guzman, chairwoman of the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, which represents more than 450,000 Hispanic-owned businesses.

“Latinos are not unlike any other community. It’s a very diverse community,” Miss Guzman said. “At the end of the day, it’s going to depend on who gets their message out and who does the most outreach.”

Whether Hispanics turn out at the polls on election day is another matter.

Hispanics make up one-third of California’s population, but less than one-fifth of voters. By comparison, non-Hispanic whites made up 47 percent of the population but 71 percent of voters.

The nonpartisan Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project is leading door-to-door campaigns in more than 30 heavily Hispanic communities to register voters by the Sept. 22 deadline.

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