By HOWARD FISCHER | Capitol Media Services
Two top Democrats believe John Kerry has a chance to win Arizona this year—but only if Hispanics turn out for the Democratic nominee in greater numbers than they did four years ago for Al Gore.
Henry Cisneros, who was secretary of Housing and Urban Development under Bill Clinton, said Wednesday Hispanics need to back Kerry at a rate close to 70 percent to give this state’s 10 electoral votes to Kerry. “That should make us competitive,’’ he said.
He said Clinton managed to rack up the backing up 78 percent of Hispanics nationwide in 1996, a year when Arizona went Democratic. But four years later, Gore found himself getting the support of only about two out of every three Hispanic voters.
So what went wrong in 2000?
“There was the so-called Texas experience,’’ said Cisneros, himself the former mayor of San Antonio. “Bush painted himself as having a good relationship with Latinos as governor of Texas.’’
Cisneros also said Bush was guilty of “deceptive packaging of ‘compassionate conservatism,’” a reference to the president’s self-proclaimed philosophy.
Jim Pederson, chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party, promised a “ground war’’ here.
He said getting a high percentage of Hispanics who vote to back Kerry is only part of the problem. Pederson said the party is especially going after “low efficacy voters,’’ those who have tended not to go to the polls in the past.
And, in Arizona, that group has included Hispanics.
But Bob Fannin, Pederson’s counterpart for the state Republican Party, said that’s not going to produce the kind of numbers among Hispanic voters that Democrats believe they need.
“I think they’re dreaming if they think that the Democratic Party is going to continue to just have the Hispanic vote the way they’re talking about in the past,’’ he said. Fannin said at least part of the reason for that is the increasing number of Hispanics who own their own businesses.
“I know they are very interested in the success of President Bush,’’ he said. “They don’t want higher taxes and they don’t want overregulation.’’
The belief that Arizona is again “in play’’ is likely to result in a new round of commercials, said Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
“We are making our decisions on TV on a day-by-day basis,’’ he said. The Kerry campaign had planned new commercials on Arizona TV stations for early this month but cancelled them—and moved cash elsewhere—after polls showed Bush leading the Massachusetts senator here by a double-digit margin.
McAuliffe said that reevaluation also follows a poll released Tuesday which showed that, after the second debate last week, Kerry has pulled within five points of Bush.
The comments came Wednesday afternoon on the grounds of Arizona State University as the two presidential contenders were waiting their third and final face-off.
Fannin conceded that Bush—and other Republican candidates—are not likely to pick up a majority of Hispanic voters this year. But he said that the president’s policies of tax cuts are bound to appeal to an increasing number than prior years.
Cisneros said that Hispanics also could make the difference in Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada.