- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 15, 2004

Democrats must step up the courting of Hispanics who have voted Republican in recent years or risk losing this year’s presidential election, states a Democratic campaign strategy memorandum.

In a surprisingly frank analysis of the political challenges their party faces this year in the largest and fastest-growing minority voter group, Democrats were told that Hispanic immigrants do not have the same loyalty to the Democratic Party that second- and third-generation Hispanic voters have; that President Bush and his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, are seen as especially popular among the voting bloc; and that the president only needs to increase his Hispanic vote by a few percentage points to win re-election.

“The Republicans are not aiming to get the majority of the Hispanic vote, they don’t need it — they only need 5 or 6 more percentage points to win. And they are being incredibly aggressive about making it happen,” according to the strategy memo that was presented at the Democratic congressional retreat last week. A copy of the memo was obtained from a Democratic official.

Hispanics made up about 6 percent of the electorate in the 2000 election, and Mr. Bush won 35 percent of their vote, while Al Gore drew 62 percent. But Democratic Party officials estimate that the Hispanic vote has since grown to about 9 percent of the electorate, and the Bush campaign is preparing an unprecedented voter-outreach campaign to pull a larger percentage of the voting bloc into the Republican column in November.

“They have aggressively and very effectively used Spanish-language TV as the vehicle to reach the mostly swing, Spanish-dominant part of the electorate, which is now a majority of Latino voters in this country,” the memo said.

Maria Cardona, vice president of the New Democrat Network (NDN) and the memo’s author, who presented these and other findings to the Democratic Congressional Caucus last week, says that Hispanics represent the target group that can be more easily drawn to the GOP’s message.

“They were not brought up in the farm labor movement. They don’t really have this loyalty to our party, so they are more persuadable. Also, they come from places where the government wasn’t necessarily friendly,” Ms. Cardona said in an interview yesterday.

The size of this Hispanic target group has mushroomed over the past two decades. In 1988, the share of foreign-born Hispanic voters who spoke mostly Spanish was 18 percent. By 2003, that number “has skyrocketed to 51 percent,” the memo said.

Most worrisome of all to the Democrats, the memo said, is that this is a “swing vote” group that “swings harder and quicker than any other constituency.”

“They are the ones that have been open to the overtures Republicans have consistently been making for the past several years, and on which Democrats need to concentrate in order to keep or increase the Democratic advantage among Latino voters.”

The memo, which is being widely circulated among party leaders and grass-roots activists, says that a “sea change” has occurred in the Hispanic bloc’s volatility, one that they directly connect to Mr. Bush’s personal appeal to their culture.

“George Bush and [Florida Gov.] Jeb Bush are especially well liked among Latinos,” Ms. Cardona said.

“The combination of positive themes, using Spanish-language television and having the president and the Bush family as messengers has proven to be a very powerful one as evidenced by an increase of support Bush got from Latinos in NDN’s 2002 poll, when he drew up to 44 percent of the vote in a hypothetical matchup with Gore who won 46 percent,” the memo said.

Mr. Bush’s strength among Hispanics has fallen by about 10 percent since then, according to the latest NDN polls, but Ms. Cardona said the president’s numbers could rise again if Democrats do not spend more to counter the GOP’s challenge for Hispanic loyalties.

A second memo presented to the congressional caucus showed that when Democratic ads aimed at Hispanic voters were run heavily in test markets in Orlando, Fla., and Las Vegas, Mr. Bush’s support fell significantly.

Republican officials said yesterday they were planning to wage a major campaign for Hispanic voters in what could be the costliest presidential campaign ever.

“We will continue our outreach to Latino and Hispanic voters in all states by communicating our message in a bilingual fashion. We’re going to be very aggressive. We’re going to campaign on TV, radio, print and on the Internet,” said Nicole Guillemard, a spokesman at the Republican National Committee.

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