July 24, 2000
Betty Ann Bowser reports on attempts by both Republicans and Democrats to win Hispanic voters.
GEORGE W. BUSH: You had a chance to meet my wife, la persona que amo
BETTY ANN BOWSER: The campaign rhetoric this year is sounding a little different, a little, well, foreign.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: En la familia Americana, educacion tiene que ser lo mas importante. (Cheers and applause) Si. Claro que si.
|The fastest growing ethnic group|
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Both presidential candidates are dashing around the country speaking Spanish. It's a sign of how seriously both political parties take the new muscle of Spanish-speaking Americans. Latinos are the fastest-growing group of ethnic voters in the country, and their numbers are greatest in key states like Florida, New York, Texas, and California. That's important. The nine states that have the largest Hispanic population account for 75 percent of the electoral votes needed to win the presidency.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Gracias. Muchismas gracias. (Cheers and applause)
BETTY ANN BOWSER: That's why the two presidential candidates are paying so much attention to those voters. In a close election, which this one could be, Latinos can make the road to the White House a smoother ride for whoever gets their support. Harry Pachon heads the Tomas Rivera Policy Research Institute at Claremont College in California.
HARRY PACHON, Tomas Rivera Policy Institute: I think it's numbers. I mean, when we look at them, in California all it takes is about 4 percent of Latinos voting one particular way to make a one-point difference in the election.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Traditionally there has been a split in the Hispanic community, with most Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, and central Americans voting democratic, and most Cuban Americans going Republican, but the way Latinos vote often depends more on where they live now rather than where they came from.
HARRY PACHON: The Latino voter in Florida is quite different than the Latino voter in Texas versus California, and even amongst the same general sub-population, like Mexican Americans, there's big differences amongst Mexican Americans in Texas versus California, for example-- Californians and New York Latinos, much more liberal than Texas and Florida Latinos.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: But no matter where they live, Latinos now are being considered fair game, with both candidates pitching their messages to Latino communities outside their traditional turf.
WOMAN: This area over here is for Spanish press.
|Candidates making pitches to Latinos|
BETTY ANN BOWSER: In California, where Latinos lean Democratic, Governor Bush held the first statewide bilingual town hall meeting.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: I don't take a poll or a focus group to determine who I ought to go see. I have made a reputation in my state of Texas about reaching out to the Hispanic population. (Chanting in Spanish)
BETTY ANN BOWSER: In Florida, Vice President Gore split ranks with Democrats over the plight of Elian Gonzalez, and supported the position of Republican-leaning Cuban Americans.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: I would have handled it by putting this into a family court, following the normal due process that should be followed in such situations.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Michael Alvarez, associate professor at the California Institute of Technology, who has studied Latino voting trends, says the candidates realize that Latinos tend to vote by issues rather than by party.
MICHAEL ALVAREZ: The Latino community is very strongly catholic, and a lot of Latinos do follow the dictates of the Church when it comes to their beliefs about abortion. So on that issue a lot of Latinos fall into kind of a traditional Republican territory, but on lots of other issues, issues primarily dealing with the role of government in society-- should the government play a stronger role in education, should the government play a stronger role in guaranteeing jobs and economic security for people-- On those kind of issues, Latinos fall very strongly into the Democratic territory because they're very much in favor of an activist government. So they, they straddle the traditional party boundaries.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: If the Latino vote straddles party lines, pollster Ed Goeas says republicans shouldn't miss the chance to grab that vote.
ED GOEAS: We're looking at number right now of white voters in this country moving increasingly Republican in their vote, and you look at the African American community becoming increasingly homogenous and monolithic in their support of Democratic candidates. For the Republicans particularly, though, you can't afford to, to allow the Hispanics to become as monolithic in their vote.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: That fact has not been lost on Governor Bush.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: ...Dinero, mas de su dinero para conservar...
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Unlike most Republican candidates in the past, bush is making a strong pitch for Hispanics, and part of his strategy is family ties.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: I have another member of my family here, el hijo
BETTY ANN BOWSER: He calls his nephew, the son of Florida Governor Jeb Bush and his Mexican-born wife, his secret weapon.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: He's a smart, he's a smart man. He's a family, he's blood, I love him dearly, and that's George P. Bush. Stand up, Pete. (Applause)
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Bush has good reason to think he can make inroads into the Hispanic community. When he ran for reelection as governor of Texas two years ago, he got 47 percent of the Hispanic vote. Political scientist Alvarez says the new attention could bring big rewards for the community and for the parties.
|How influential is the Latino vote?|
MICHAEL ALVAREZ: You know, a great comparison for the Latinos these days are the Irish immigrants a hundred, 150 years ago, where they were coming into, again, very large urban areas-- New York, primarily-- and developed very quickly into a very significant voting bloc on the east coast, and candidates developed very specific appeals to those groups, those new immigrant groups, back at the turn of the century, helped mobilize them into politics, and played a very important role in developing some of the most important political machines that we've seen in American politics.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Hoping to fine-tune that machine, Latino-elected officials from across the country gathered last month in Denver. Democratic congressman from New Jersey, Robert Menendez:
REP. ROBERT MENENDEZ: To all of the candidates who are out there, whether they are running for president or whether they are running for the members of the House of Representatives or for the Senate, beware: Success, all roads, lead to the Latino community in this election.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Federico Pena, a former cabinet member for the Clinton administration, says the Latino vote could be decisive in many districts.
FEDERICO PENA: There are about 73 congressional districts where Latinos are about 15 percent of the population. So in any close congressional district you could have the Latino community in that district decide who's going to be the next member of Congress. So not only will the Latinos' vote, in my opinion, help determine who will be the next president, the Latino vote will help determine the composition of the House of Representatives and who will control the House of Representatives.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Consultants offered them hints on how to get their message across to the media.
CONSULTANT: If there were three things you want me to remember about this interview when I walk away, what three things are they about bilingual education?
BETTY ANN BOWSER: And Gore showed up, trying to bring them into his camp.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: And one of the obstacles is the misperception promoted by some that we've now reached the promised land, we now have a prejudice-free society. Hola! (Laughter) Donde? So I think that we have to have a national law against hate crimes. I think that we have to have affirmative action. I think we have to have civil rights laws, enforcement...
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Republican California assemblyman Rod Pacheco loved the attention.
ROD PACHECO: Our impact on presidential politics is thus obvious. When I tell my non-Hispanic friends in California of these numbers, the most frequently asked question is what will this mean for the rest of the country? I reassure them by telling them that we will treat them as well as they have treated us. (Laughter) Sometimes that fails to reassure them. (Laughter)
GEORGE W. BUSH: ..quiero hablar en espanol, pero no que...
BETTY ANN BOWSER: But will all the excitement pay off? Is there any evidence that the Latino vote could actually turn a presidential election? California may be the place to see how influential the vote can be. Latino voters there have a record of making a difference. In 1998, they turned out in record numbers to help take the governor's mansion back from the Republicans. They were angry with Republican anti-immigration initiatives like Proposition 187.
HARRY PACHON: One of the interesting things for the future: Was the anti- immigration rhetoric of the 1990's a watershed period for the Latino community in certain states? Much like the civil rights act of 1964 was a watershed period for black voters, that it pushed them into the Democratic Party.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: If Governor Bush could woo those voters back, it would have a significant impact on the campaign.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: I've got a lot of challenges in the state of California. One, I've got to change the perception that our party is anti-immigrant. It's an image that some have ascribed to the Republican Party. I'm setting a different tone and a different attitude toward the newly arrived.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Bienvenidos a este pais. You're welcome in America, that America is meant for everybody.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: The Vice President often reminds Latinos that he and the Democratic Party always opposed the anti-immigration measures.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: I helped to fight against prop. 187 and prop 209, porque somos una nacion de inmigrantes, y con orgullo. (Cheers and applause)
BETTY ANN BOWSER: But there's a new face in the presidential race, Green Party nominee Ralph Nader. According to Republican pollster Goeas, Nader makes the Vice President's need for Hispanics even greater.
ED GOEAS: Ralph Nader in most recent polls is running five or six percent nationally, but he's running very strong west of the Mississippi and particularly in California, and his vote that he's getting in California is directly out of the hide of Al Gore, and so you combine a Ralph Nader taking votes from the left from Al Gore, and a George W. Bush, who is running much stronger than normal than republicans with the Hispanic vote, and all of a sudden California is in play, and it has to be very disconcerting for the Gore campaign because if they're having to go in and shore up California, that means they're not moving to other parts of the country that they need to be that are much more swing.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: But Democratic Congressman Menendez says Hispanics in California will prove to be loyal to Democrats in the fall.
REP. ROBERT MENENDEZ: Well, I think the vice president's last eight years of proven actions on behalf of our community-- standing up for them when they were being attacked by negative propositions across the country, advocating for them in terms of greater representation in the federal government-- those are proven actions, not just the words of a candidate.
SPOKESMAN: I'd like to ask you a question.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Sure.
SPOKESMAN: I understand that you speak Spanish.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: No, tengo que practicar.
SPOKESMAN: Practicar muchas...
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Whether it's California, Florida, or Illinois...
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Si se puede ganamos. Gracias a todos!
BETTY ANN BOWSER: ...Voters are likely to hear more Spanish as candidates court votes on the campaign trail.