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by Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Repub Candidates Hope Latino Voters Can Overlook Demonization

(PNS) -- It's much too soon for top Democrats to uncork the champagne bottles on the prospect that the Latino vote is signed, sealed and delivered for them in 2008. At first glance, that certainly seems to be the case. The latest Pew Hispanic Center poll found that Latinos are defecting from the GOP camp in droves. The defections are so great that it threatens to unravel all the time-consuming, painstaking work that Bush put into wooing and courting Latino voters in 2000 and 2004.

The courting paid big dividends -- so big that some analysts credit the Latino vote with helping put Bush over the top in 2004. According to Pew, though, that wouldn't happen again.

Nearly half said that Bush's policies have damaged Latinos, and only a measly 16 percent said they'd been helpful. That was a stark and stunning reversal from three years earlier when a significant percent of Latino voters cheered Bush's policies.

Bush is widely -- and unfairly -- blamed for making a mess of the immigration reform fight in Congress by not pushing hard enough for passage of the bill. Immigrant rights groups lambaste Republican senators for piling crippling demands for tight amnesty, citizenship, and border security provisions on the bill. And leading Republican presidential contenders Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson haven't help matters by flatly opposing any immigration reform as much too soft on amnesty and border enforcement. That did much to kill whatever flickering hope there was for immigration reform, at least for now.

But immigration is only one issue, and with the election 11 months away, there's no guarantee that it will be the dominant issue when the race heats up next year. Polls have shown that Latino voters by big margins will likely vote for Hillary Clinton, and that they are lukewarm at best to top Democrats Barack Obama and John Edwards. In the Pew survey, only 15 percent of Latino Democrats would back Obama -- at this point.

Republican strategists say that the trump card issues that Bush adroitly used to appeal to many Hispanic voters are still very much on the table. They're right. The emphasis on small business, anti-welfare spending, tax and spend policies, the war on terror, and family are still issues of importance to legions of Hispanics.

Bush campaign officials pumped millions into ads on Spanish-language networks Univision and Telemundo that aired in New Mexico, Florida, Nevada and Arizona. The ads were geared to increase the Republican vote total among Latinos by as much as 5 percent. That was the figure that Republican strategists figured would help tip these states to Bush. They figured correctly.

They also got a lot of backing from Latino Republicans. In the "National Survey of Latinos: The Latino Electorate," conducted in 2002 by the Pew Hispanic Center, one-fifth of Latinos said they were Republicans. The survey also confirmed the not-so-subtle link between race and party affiliation. The overwhelming majority of the Latinos that self-identified as Republicans also self-identified as "white." That corresponded with the Pew survey that found that those most likely to be Republican were wealthier, better educated and, at least in their eyes, white.

Many are staunchly opposed to gay marriage and abortion, and in favor of family values and school prayer. Latino evangelicals, for instance, are growing in numbers and influence; the majority is conservative, even fundamentalist. Despite their anger at the Republicans for not doing enough to get the immigration bill through the Senate, they are still prime political pickings for the GOP.

A poll released yesterday by ImpreMedia and Avanze found that 35 percent of Latino voters in the five states with the highest percentage of Latinos -- California, Illinois, New York, Florida and Texas -- still don't know who they are voting for. Republicans could appeal to the 15 percent of voters in these states who identify as Independents, many of whom share their socially conservative values.

Republican candidates made their case to Latino voters last week in a Spanish-language presidential forum on Univision.

Earlier this year, the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast and Conference invited every Republican presidential candidate along with the Democrats to address their prayer breakfast and conference in Washington, D.C., this year. Meanwhile, Obama and Clinton have read the religious tea leaves and have turned somersaults trying to sell the idea that they are religious fundamentalists in their own right.

Though Clinton at this point is the Democratic front-runner and gets overwhelming support from Latino voters, there are some cracks in her political seams. In a straight-up match with Giuliani, in Gallup's Annual Minority Rights and Relations Survey in July 2007, he nosed her out among college-educated Hispanics. Overall, he got nearly one-third of the Hispanic vote even though in one national poll in July 2007, only 11 percent of Hispanics self-identified as Republicans.

A bevy of Latino Democrats have warned top Democrats that they tread with great peril if they take the Latino vote for granted. The Democratic contenders have mostly heeded their warning. Republicans know that no matter what appeals they make, the majority of Latino voters will back whichever Democrat grabs the nomination. Yet they also know that they don't need a majority to punch the Republican ticket; they only need a strategic minority of Hispanic voters in the must-win states of Florida and the West where Hispanic votes can swing the election to punch their card.

That's even more cause for the Democrats not to think the Latino vote is in their bag.

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Albion Monitor   December 17, 2007   (

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