Latino voters in
the United States will play a key role, and could be the decisive factor,
in determining who wins the 2004 U.S. presidential race, say representatives
from the two major American political parties and experts who chart
the Latino vote. Latinos are now the largest minority group in the United
States. The latest U.S. Census Bureau figures show 38.8 million Latinos
in the country, and their influence is especially felt in states with
large Latino populations, such as Florida, New York, Illinois, Texas,
California and New Jersey, as they hold 181 of the 270 electoral votes
needed to take the presidency. An estimated six million Latinos participated
in the 2000 presidential election, and that number is expected to increase
The Democratic and Republican political parties both are heavily engaged
in outreach efforts to woo Latinos to their side. The Republicans, for
instance, have posted on their Spanish-language website an initiative
called “Abriendo Caminos” (Forging New Paths), which serves
as that party’s gateway to extolling what it says are President
Bush's efforts to aid Latinos.
As in 2000, the Republicans are also employing what they call the “Team
Leader Project,” in which speakers from the Bush administration
inform local communities about Republican legislative proposals to assist
Latinos. Nicole Guillemard, director of outreach at the Republican National
Committee in Washington, said Bush won about 35 percent of the Latino
vote in the 2000 presidential election and her party hopes to significantly
improve on that mark this year. That turnout for Bush was a decided
improvement over the 21 percent won by the 1996 Republican candidate,
former Senator Bob Dole. The Republicans also take heart in the fact
that some polls show that Latinos, traditionally a Democratic constituency,
are now less likely to automatically identify themselves as Democrats.
The Republicans view the Latino vote as “very crucial” in
the presidential election, emphasized Guillemard. Meanwhile, Nelson
Reyneri, director of Hispanic Outreach for the Democratic National Committee,
said his party has a five-part outreach strategy for capturing Latinos,
the theme of “Juntos Podemos” (Together We Can).
Under that strategy, the Democrats hope to expand their traditional
support from Latinos, recognizing that the party cannot “rest
on its laurels” to appeal to that large voting bloc, said Reyneri.
The strategy includes holding Hispanic Leadership Summits to reach out
to Latino leaders. The party plans such a summit May 14-16 in Orlando,
Florida, attended by some 200 Democratic Hispanic elected and appointed
officials, party activists and the eventual Democratic presidential
The Democrats seek to expand on the 62 percent of the Latino vote won
by former Vice President Al Gore in the 2000 match-up against Bush.
The Latino vote will be a “critical factor” on who wins
the White House, said Reyneri.
A leading pollster of Latino voting trends, Sergio Bendixen, found that
as of early February, Bush would receive 34 percent Latino support against
an unnamed Democratic opponent — about the same percentage as
in 2000. However, that does not necessarily rebound in the Democrats’
Bendixen said. His polling showed an unnamed Democratic opponent receiving
48 percent of the vote — far below the mid-60s level Democrats
believe they need among Latinos to win the White House.
Bendixen said the biggest issues for U.S. Latinos are education, jobs,
health care, the war in Iraq and immigration. On that latter issue,
Bendixen said Latinos are split about 42 percent in favor, 20 percent
against regarding Bush's new proposal to issue temporary work permits
to temporary workers in the United States, the large majority of them
from Mexico. However, opposition to the plan more than doubled when
respondents were told most temporary workers would have to return to
their home countries at the end of three or six years.
A poll released January 8 by the Washington-based Pew Hispanic Center
found that Latinos were less supportive of the war in Iraq and of Bush
as a reelection candidate than the U.S. general population as a whole.
The poll found that about 36 percent of Latinos support Bush's re-election.