- The Washington Times - Friday, February 4, 2005

Republicans said they will be able to make Democrats suffer a loss of support among Hispanic voters for opposing Alberto Gonzales’ nomination as attorney general yesterday, but Democrats said Republicans were misusing the issue of ethnicity during the confirmation debate.

“I would not be able to explain to Hispanic voters why I voted against this man,” said Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida, the only Republican Hispanic in the Senate.

And Michael McKenna, a Republican pollster who has surveyed Hispanics, said Republicans will be able to send home a strong message about the 36 Democrats who voted against Mr. Gonzales.

“Everywhere this guy goes now, he’s going to be emblematic of Democratic hostility to Hispanics,” Mr. McKenna said. “This is the attorney general of the United States. This guy’s going to be on TV, this guy’s going to go places, and every time he appears in the media for the next three years, it’s going to be a constant reminder to Hispanics who’s on whose side.”

Both parties view Hispanic voters as a potential source of swing votes in an otherwise fairly polarized electorate, and they put considerable effort into getting Hispanic votes in 2004’s elections.

Since winning at least 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in November, Mr. Bush has promoted several Hispanics to key positions. None, however, has been higher in profile than Mr. Gonzales, who was Mr. Bush’s chief counsel and a former Texas Supreme Court justice.

“I think people look at — here’s an example of a Hispanic born to modest means, and because of his hard work and the love and support of his family, has risen to the top levels of the U.S. government, and there are those who want to create a glass ceiling,” Sen. John Cornyn said of Democrats’ opposition.

“I think they’re making a terrible mistake, but in politics, one of the first rules is, when your opponent is self-destructing, get out of the way,” said the Texas Republican, who was instrumental in shepherding Mr. Gonzales through the confirmation process.

But Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado, the only Hispanic Democrat in the chamber, indicated that Republicans were straying into dangerous ground with their criticism of Democrats for forcing the debate.

“I think it is a mistake for this chamber to allow the race card of being Hispanic to be used to destroy or erode the institutions that we have here in the United States Senate,” said Mr. Salazar, who voted for Mr. Gonzales.

“My view is that those Democratic colleagues of mine, who are people I admire, are very much champions of diversity and champions of civil rights, and in my view they were exercising their appropriate role.”

Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, another of the six Democrats who voted for Mr. Gonzales, said he doesn’t see political payback for his fellow Democrats.

“I think everybody was voting their conscience,” he said.

Sergio Bendixen, who polls Hispanics for Democrats, said while the confirmation is a big win for Mr. Bush, it’s not going to affect Democrats.

“I don’t think [Hispanic voters are] going to react strongly about the fact that he’s being asked a lot of questions,” he said.

But, he added, for Republicans it is just another success at the federal level to go along with successes in Florida, New York and California at building a record that can attract Hispanic voters.

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