The most recent report from the Hispanic Voter Project at Johns Hopkins University, “Hispanic Tuesday: The Hispanic Vote and the 2004 Democratic Primaries,” reprinted here, has helped shape media attention of the campaign cycle now underway. A report on Republican strategies intended to win a larger share of the Hispanic vote in 2004 is now being developed.
The Project’s goals are to draw attention to the growing political importance of Hispanic American voters, examine efforts by political parties, candidates, and interest groups to reach minority voters, and understand the political dilemmas posed by shifting national demographics. The Project’s non-partisan research has received attention from national media, academia, business leaders and government.
The Hispanic Voter Project’s groundbreaking report, “The Hispanic Priority,” examined presidential campaign efforts to reach Hispanic voters in 2000 through Spanish-language/bilingual television advertising and earned media. Another report on campaign spending in the 2002 cycle found that candidates and groups spent more than $16 million on Spanish-language or bilingual political television advertisements in an effort to win the Hispanic vote in competitive campaigns. The Project invites sponsors for its 2004 reports.
Adam J. Segal
Director, Hispanic Voter Project
Johns Hopkins University
1717 Massachusetts Avenue, NW First Floor Washington, DC 20036
July 21, 2003—Hispanic voters will play a historic new role in the early Democratic presidential primaries next year. For the first time, two states with large, growing Hispanic populations, New Mexico (Hispanics are 42.1% of the population) and Arizona (25.3%), will hold primaries or caucuses on the same date in the first multi-state round of Democratic presidential contests, February 3, 2004 – Hispanic Tuesday.
With a large competitive field of Democratic candidates now in place, the growing Hispanic communities in early primary states have greater ability to influence the outcome of primaries than at any previous time. This means that earlier than ever before, and at a higher rate than ever before, Hispanics in key electoral states will be part of some of the important first primaries, wielding more deciding influence on which candidate will represent the Democratic Party in the general election.
Adding to the historic nature of next year’s presidential election, Hispanics, broadly
defined, are now the largest minority population in the United States.
Now more than 38.8 million strong, they are rapidly commanding new influence on American culture and society.
This election will be a test of the diverse Hispanic community’s voting influence
during the primaries and general election than in previous years.
While post-2000 redistricting across the nation may have curtailed Hispanic influence in many congressional districts, the community’s ability to influence the presidential primaries and general election has increased. This is a result of shifting demographics and the fact that Hispanic voters comprise a significant and growing part of the electorate in key general election battleground states. Despite this opportunity, community organizers, candidates, parties, and interest groups face the obstacle of registering new Hispanic voters and ensuring high turnout on election days. According to Party spokespeople and activists interviewed, the Party and its affiliated groups will make substantially more resources available for Hispanic outreach than in previous elections.
The potential rising influence of Hispanic voters can make the difference for Democrats in another close presidential election in 2004. With as many as three million new voters, the diverse Hispanic population in the United States could become the single most important key to Democratic success, assuming past allegiance. Recent early polls indicating a small gap between support for Bush and a Democratic nominee demonstrate just how close the election could be in the Hispanic community.
As a result, early attention by the Democratic candidates will be critical to their success. Many Democratic campaign strategies and messages have emerged and are likely to be at the center of the general election pitch to Hispanic voters.
To win Arizona and New Mexico, and influence the California (32.4% Hispanic), New York (15.1%), Texas (32%) and Florida (16.8%) primaries, where Hispanics will also play a major role, candidates will need to demonstrate their credentials before the Hispanic community and develop better grassroots strategies than in previous elections.
While money and endorsements will play a critical role in disseminating each candidates’ message and earning broader support, many top officials recently interviewed warned that candidates and the Democratic Party will need to take a more personal, dedicated approach to reaching this community. Grassroots efforts are needed in order to win wide support and develop national community enthusiasm. Success in the primaries will be critical to victory in the general election. Some Democratic Party faction leaders are putting resources behind new independent efforts, and expectations are that millions of dollars will be raised for these plans.
With President Bush actively courting the community (a topic that will be examined in a subsequent report), how Democrats reach out to Hispanics will again have national general election implications. In 2000, the campaign of Vice President Al Gore and the Democratic Party made Spanish-language advertising and other communications efforts a lesser priority than the Bush campaign and Republican Party.
Bush went on to win a larger percentage of the Hispanic vote than previous Republican nominees, unnerving many in the Democratic Party that had warned about taking minority support for granted.
“We’re throughout this country and a lot of states [that were decided in 2000] by one or two percent,” said Texas Congressman Ciro Rodriguez, Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, a Democratic group. “This country’s pretty well divided, it’s still divided, even after the last election. And this race could go one way or the other. In fact I think that because of the numbers and the growth…that Republicans have no choice but to make inroads. And I think [that is why] they are going to go after the Hispanic and Latino vote.”
Democratic Party officials are excited about this year’s primary calendar and how it
allows Hispanics to have greater influence on the process. “It’s a very diverse, very competitive, balanced, orderly calendar,” said Guillermo Meneses, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee. “We are seeing some small, medium and large states… with large Hispanic populations that are playing key roles. You are seeing more and more, as the numbers of Hispanics grow, states with large Hispanic populations will play an even larger role in deciding who the Democratic nominee will be. They will continue to see their political power grow.”
Hispanic Voters in Arizona and New Mexico, Early Power Brokers for the First
Time Democratic officials are excited about the role Hispanics will play in the new calendar.
“It is going to be a historic opportunity because of the dramatic population growth in states having early primaries with significant Hispanic populations,” said House
Democratic Caucus Chairman and New Jersey Congressman Bob Menendez.
The State of Arizona has held contested Republican presidential primaries that have been closely watched nationally. However, Democratic Party rules and disorganization within the state Party minimized the impact of the Arizona primary contest before 2000.
In 2000, Arizona hosted an early Republican primary on February 2 that drew a
competitive Republican race but, according to Democrats, involved few Hispanic
Despite this fact, Bush became the first candidate to run a Spanish-language
television advertisement in the Arizona presidential primary. His campaign aired at least $42,000 of Spanish-language television ads on the local Univision station in an effort to mobilize the community and draw national attention to his Hispanic outreach strategy.
Arizona Senator John McCain defeated Bush 60%-36%.
The Democratic Party primary was held a month later, on March 11. Al Gore defeated Bill Bradley 78%-20% on a day of other primaries largely decided by Gore’s momentum from the earlier string of victories in each of the prior Democratic primaries and caucuses.
Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano has said her state is “the fastest-growing state in the Southwest with the fastest-growing Latino population,” a fact that is not lost on other Party officials who have joined with her to schedule the state’s earliest Democratic presidential primary ever.
“The United States’ growing Latino population in the southwest, and in particular in Arizona, will make the early presidential primary the election to watch. The early
presidential primary is an opportunity for the Arizona Latino Community to flex its
political muscle,” said Mario Diaz, Deputy Chief of Staff for Urban Affairs and Boards and Commissions to Governor Napolitano.
In 2000, New Mexico held its late presidential primary on June 6, making it the last state to hold a presidential primary.
Largely mimicking the results across the nation and cementing the near-political irrelevance of the late primary, Gore defeated Bradley by a 7-2 margin and Bush defeated McCain by an 8-3 margin. New Mexico figured prominently in the 2000 general election, attracting the focus of both the Bush and Gore campaigns and battleground status. Gore carried the state by a narrow 366 vote margin.
With Hispanic Governor Bill Richardson leading the state along with a Democratic
majority in the State House, the Party was in the position to move up its Democratic caucus to its earliest date ever. This move put New Mexico into an important position as one of the nation’s earliest Democratic contests, rather than a nearly-irrelevant late-summer contest previously held just weeks before the Democratic Party held its national convention.
The Democratic presidential campaigns weighed-in on the historical significance of the early Arizona and New Mexico primaries. Please see “The Presidential Candidates and their Campaigns” section later in this report.
Hispanic Voters in Other Early Primary States
Next year’s first presidential caucus will be held in Iowa on January 19, 2004 and the first-in-the-nation primary will be held in New Hampshire a week later on January 27. In Iowa (2.8% Hispanic) and New Hampshire (1.7%), two states with lower than average ethnic and racial diversity, local politicians caution about overlooking the growing strength of Hispanics and point to recent successful political organizing efforts. If mobilized, Hispanics in these states could influence the outcome of a very closely divided contest.
One leading New Hampshire Democratic politician, whose support is being sought by virtually all of the presidential candidates, argues that even New Hampshire is
experiencing a growth in Hispanic political strength. “Candidates who stereotype New Hampshire as a rural, exclusively white state do so at their peril. In the cities and suburbs in the southern part of the state, the Latino community is becoming an important force that is growing both in number and in ability to organize,” said Robert Baines, Mayor of Manchester, New Hampshire. “Local candidates in the cities of Manchester and Nashua now incorporate as a matter of course Spanish translations of campaign literature and brochures into their canvassing plans and seek to identify supporters among the leaders of the Latino community - so I would expect presidential candidates to do the same.”
In the 2000 presidential caucuses, then Governor George W. Bush aired his first Spanish-language radio advertisement in Iowa.
While this was largely intended to send a message through the national media that Bush was going to make Hispanics a central part of his campaign strategy, it was also intended to rally the small, but growing Hispanic community in the state. Hispanics are now the largest minority community in the state.
At the first-in-the-nation caucus (excluding a potential Washington, DC primary),
Democrats have a chance to send a similar message in 2004. Some have already indicated their intention to campaign hard for the Hispanic vote in Iowa.
“In Iowa, as in the rest of the United States, Hispanics are already the largest minority,” said Congressman Dick Gephardt’s campaign spokeswoman Kim Molstre. “Although there was an important influx of Hispanics in the 1990s, the Latino community in Iowa can trace its roots back to the late 1800s when many of their ancestors came to work for the Santa Fe Railroad. These are second, third and fourth generation Latino families that are concerned about unemployment and health care just like other families in America. The Gephardt campaign has begun its outreach efforts to Latinos in Iowa, and will continue to do so in other states throughout the primary season.”
Just a week after the February 3 New Hampshire primary, the Democratic presidential candidates will compete for the votes of a more diverse universe of voters, including Hispanic voters who command significant influence in Arizona and New Mexico. The same day the candidates will compete in South Carolina (2.4% Hispanic), which has a very large African American population (29.5%), as well as Delaware (4.8% Hispanic), Missouri (2.1%) and Oklahoma (5.2%).
According to data from the Federal Election Commission, voter turnout percentages among “Hispanic” voters nationally have historically been lower than “Black” [African American] or “White” [assumed to be non-Hispanic Whites] turnout, though the overall “peaks” and valleys” in turnout numbers can be correlated among all groups.
This remains an obstacle to consistent electoral strength in the future.
With one of the tightest fields of Democratic candidates in recent memory, many
campaign and Party officials expect the nomination fight to last at least two months. This means other states with large Hispanic populations such as California, New York, Texas (all March 2), and Florida (March 9) may also be critical to the process of selecting a Democratic nominee. If the competitive campaign stretches into March, something that is not guaranteed, high Hispanic turnout in these contests could help transform these primaries from traditional “Super Tuesday” events into “Hispanic Super Tuesday” events.
“The other states that will come in the later primaries are the behemoths of Hispanic political participation,” said Congressman Bob Menendez, noting the millions of Hispanics that live and vote in California and New York.
Warnings to Democratic Candidates from Inside and Out
By all indications, Democrats will have to work harder than in previous elections to
secure a majority of the Hispanic vote in key battleground states and nationally.
While some Hispanic groups are planning to host forums for each of the candidates, Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva argued against relying on these types of events as a centerpiece to a campaign’s Hispanic strategy. “What I hope doesn’t happen, but history is the indication, is that we have a cattle call where everybody doesn’t deal with the substantive issues,” he said. “I don’t think you can just do the traditional Latino cattle call.” He warned of candidates who develop an impersonal resume of previous support or the community that is used in campaign materials, speeches, and advertisements. “If they do that boiler-plate it’s not going to work,” he said.
In regard to the 2000 election and the Gore campaign’s outreach to the Hispanic
community, Grijalva said, “If it’s run the same way there will be further erosion of our vote to the Republican Party. If it’s run the same way there will be the same results. It is such a prevalent attitude. One of the biggest frustrations that I face, people want my endorsement. I get to stand next to the guy and that’s it. I don’t want to be a talking head that speaks Spanish.”
He warned that for the Democrats to be victorious they will need to employ serious grassroots campaigns that personally connect the candidates with the
voters. Voters in New Hampshire and Iowa traditionally find it hard to avoid personal contact with the candidates as a result of the premium placed on connecting to the voters of these first-in-the-nation contests. So far, in Arizona and New Mexico it has been quite different.
Debbie Lopez, a veteran Democratic strategist with deep connections in Arizona raised similar concerns. “My only frustration with the presidential candidates so far has been that the only people that really know they have been in the state have been the Party people,” Lopez said. “Obviously that is the audience that is easiest. Until they have people on the ground, and none of them do yet, it’s falling on deaf ears. You know Joe Perez doesn’t even know that they have been here.” She also said that the candidates have received little attention in the Spanish-language media in the state.
Democratic decision-makers in 2000 put only limited resources behind outreach to the Hispanic community (see “The Hispanic Priority: The Spanish-Language Television Battle for the Hispanic Vote in the 2000 U.S. Presidential Election” by Adam J. Segal).
Nearly all activists or officials interviewed urged an increase in the resources for such efforts in 2004. “There is this whole perception that Republicans put out that Hispanics are for the taking. That’s not true. But as a party we’re going to squander that good will and natural affinity with our issues if we don’t put the resources there,” said Grijalva.
New Democratic Efforts, Hopeful Kingmakers and Players
A number of Democratic Party figures are vying for clout in the efforts to earn support from Hispanics. As a result of new national campaign finance laws that limit how parties and candidates are able to raise funds for political campaign efforts, these individuals have gained new powers and importance. Each wants to be a “kingmaker” and many are searching for opportunities to speak for a large part of the diverse Hispanic electorate.
New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson has placed great importance on Democratic
efforts to reach Hispanic voters in the 2004 election. He has founded a 527 political fundraising group, named Moving America Forward (MAF), “to consolidate and expand our support among Hispanics.” Richardson’s group, which plans to raise three to five million dollars, intends to play a critical role in battleground states by training Hispanic campaign staffers and local political organizers.
Funding for MAF will come from “unions, corporations, progressive donors,” according to Joe Velasquez, a consultant to Richardson. He said that Richardson’s group plans to work very closely with the AFL-CIO and went so far as to say, “We will be the Hispanic component of the Rosenthal stuff” (see below).
The group will focus on outreach in Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Florida during the coming months, according to Velasquez. The primary goal is to place young Hispanics on campaigns and “fill a big need for Democratic campaigns. Everyone looks for [Hispanic] organizers, but there are not enough.”
The organization held its first event, “Camp Bill Richardson Campaign Training Program,” on May 30 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Velasquez, a veteran of the Clinton White House political office, is leading the efforts for Richardson’s group in Washington. He said Richardson is positioning his state to have a major role in the early primary process. These efforts also place Richardson another step closer to playing a national political role in 2004, potentially as the Democratic nominee for Vice President. “What’s dramatically different is Bill Richardson,” said Velasquez.
“He’s got the ability, the pizzazz. They’re going to view Bill Richardson as the leader. The Republicans don’t have that same kind of person who speaks for the community.”
Velasquez said that New Mexico and Arizona Democrats are working closely to “bring attention to the community among the candidates” and hope to interest the candidates in participating in “Viva Tuesday,” a coordinated primary day to showcase the Hispanic community and the Democratic Party’s strong connection and commitment to it.
The Democratic National Committee is currently considering Albuquerque, New Mexico and Phoenix, Arizona among a short list of Party-sponsored primary candidate debates later in 2003.
Richardson has met with each of the major presidential campaigns and many of the
political strategists and organizers in Washington who plan to play a role in Democratic Party outreach to the Hispanic community, according to Velasquez. There is little doubt Richardson is working to position himself as a Democratic Party Hispanic kingmaker.
Steve Rosenthal, the former political director of the AFL-CIO, has angered a number of leaders of minority factions in the labor movement, including the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, since introducing a new labor-funded 527 political advocacy organization that intends to focus on increasing union and Democratic base turnout. Their vocal opposition to many of his strategies for reaching out to Hispanics and African Americans, using up to $30 million of dollars of labor funds, has attracted national media attention. It has also led to the resignation of many of the most prominent board members of his organization, the Partnership for America’s Families. Reconciliation is being urged by AFL-CIO officials.
The New Democrat Network (NDN), a centrist group of Democratic activists, has
announced its own Hispanic effort. The Hispanic Project, “Democratas Unidos,” will be a multiyear program to develop a long-term strategy for communicating with Hispanics and earning their votes. The effort will fund polls and English and Spanish-language advocacy work, including paid advertising, for candidates.
NDN’s Hispanic Project will also invest in supporting Latino candidates at the federal, state, and local level, according to Maria Cardona, NDN’s Vice President and the project’s director.
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), a group of Democratic lawmakers on
Capitol Hill, will host a series of events with the presidential primary candidates in an effort to promote Democratic-Latino bonds. In addition, according to Congressman Rodriguez, the forums’ goals are, “educating the candidates” and “getting the base energized.”
The first event planned was a joint forum on June 26-28, 2003 with the National
Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) in Phoenix, Arizona.
A second event being developed is a forum in Austin, Texas, according to Congressman Rodriguez. Congressman Menendez confirmed that the DNC will host a national debate for the presidential primary candidates in New Mexico and he said the CHC would be supportive. “To go from no national debates on Hispanic Americans, before, to two national debates on Hispanic Americans, speaks volumes about the Democratic Party” and the priorities it has placed on outreach to the community, he noted.
The CHC has created a political action committee, BOLD PAC, which has raised two million dollars beginning in the 2002 cycle to support candidates, Rodriguez said. CHC members plan to be more active during this election than in 2002, though they remain concerned about long-term efforts to motivate Hispanics to participate in the political process and support Democratic candidates.
Larry Gonzalez, NALEO’s Washington Director, said Democrats are getting more
organized because they are aware of the growing threat posed by increasing Republican efforts to court Hispanic voters and the shifting polling numbers. “They’re trying to the stop the bleeding,” he said. “I think that if there is any place where it has been happening it has been Arizona and New Mexico. It helps to have someone like Bill Richardson who is Hispanic” who can help draw large-scale national attention and bring out the Hispanic vote. Though he said that NALEO’s polling found that, as a general rule, “Other Latino electeds don’t resonate all that much in terms of get-out-the-vote efforts.” He mentioned that the most influential messengers in these efforts are teachers and Latinos in the military.
Helping the Party Stay Culturally In-Tune with Hispanic Voters
Moving America Forward, Velasquez explained, will provide “resources that are
culturally appropriate. Symbols, words, and messages that will move Latino voters to the polls.”
This comes in response to deep criticism, particular from Democratic activists in
the Southwest, that the Party’s resources have not met the needs of candidates working to connect with Hispanic voters.
Congressman Grijalva stated that the recent national Democratic Party coordinated approach to the Hispanic community has not been effective. He explained that materials supplied by the Party in 2002 were inadequate. “We threw away all of our media that we were sent. Basically we re-did our media. It was basically translated media. That’s not going to work,” he said emphasizing the need for materials specifically written for the Hispanic community.
“As it’s evolving, most folks are demanding more than just the obligatory few words in Spanish or the Mariachi bands, most of the stylistic attempts at winning hearts and minds of the Hispanic voters,” said Gonzalez. “I think that we have to move beyond that. In 2000 that was fine, but we’ve moved beyond that.”
The Democratic National Committee has received heated criticism from within its ranks for not committing to an expensive Hispanic outreach program for the coming year.
Details of new Party plans are not presently available.
The Presidential Candidates and their Campaigns
Aware of the stakes, most of the candidates and campaigns are eager to be seen as reaching out to the Hispanic community early in the campaign, particularly in Arizona, New Mexico, and others that follow rapidly after February 3.
“Arizona and New Mexico are very important states in Governor Dean’s effort to take back America,” said Kathy Lash, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean’s campaign deputy press secretary. “They will be the first big test after Iowa and New Hampshire and Governor Dean plans to campaign very rigorously in these states. No candidate can win either of these two primaries/caucuses without significant support in the Hispanic community. In fact, New Mexico has the highest percentage of Hispanics in the electorate (42%) than any other state.” In addition, she noted, “How a candidate does on February 3 with Hispanics and African Americans will have an impact on his/her ability to appeal to states with other large ethnic populations like California, Texas and New York which all hold their elections exactly one month later on March 2.”
“Latinos could very well determine the outcome of the 2004 presidential election,” said Kim Molstre, a spokeswoman for Congressman Dick Gephardt’s campaign. “The
projected Latino voting age population in 2004 is 15.6% for Arizona and 37.2% for New Mexico. Latino participation in early primaries in these states will be an indication of what to expect of Hispanic voting behavior in the other big states with a high percentage of Latinos. It will be an opportunity for Latinos to show their clout.”
“I think it is very significant,” said Jamal Simmons, Senator Bob Graham’s
Communications Director. “The Hispanic population is coming into its own politically, in a way that hasn’t existed before.”
“The high number of Hispanic-populated states participating early in the primary
calendar is truly unprecedented,” said Dagoberto Vega, a spokesman for Senator John Kerry’s campaign. “John Kerry is thrilled that Hispanic voters have a significant voice in the process. It reflects their growing influence in our political culture. He believes that Latinos should be an integral part of our national dialogue to make America stronger and more secure. We are not only focusing on New Mexico and Arizona. Hispanic Americans could play an influential part in other early primary states, such as California, New York, Florida, Texas, Illinois, and Virginia.”
“Without a doubt, the Democratic primary map has changed,” said Senator Joe
Lieberman’s spokesman Jano Cabrera. “States that previously have not had much of a say in helping to select the Democratic nominee this time around will. Because states like Arizona are holding their primaries early, they will get an opportunity to help select the nominee. And while we respect New Hampshire’s and Iowa’s traditional places on the primary map, Senator Lieberman has always felt that expanding the primary map to include even more diverse states is something that we should do. States like South Carolina, where African Americans will have a significant say in the nomination, and states like Arizona and New Mexico where Hispanic families will likewise have a significant impact on the outcome, are welcome additions.”
The presidential candidates have been trumpeting the early endorsement of prominent Hispanics across the country. An abbreviated list includes: Senator Joe Lieberman earned the endorsement of California Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante and former Arizona Governor Raul Castro, while Senator John Kerry earned the endorsement of former Clinton Administration Housing Secretary and former Univision chairman Henry Cisneros. Congressman Dick Gephardt earned the early endorsement of two members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Arizona Congressman Ed Pastor, his state chair, and Texas Congressman Silvestre Reyes. Dean earned the support of former Clinton White House staffer Maria Echaveste and Albuquerque, New Mexico Mayor Martin Chavez.
In interviews or written statements for this report, the campaigns’ spokespeople were asked what distinguishes their campaigns from the pack in appealing to Hispanic voters.
Dean’s campaign focused on an overarching theme for his campaign, “bringing people together.”
Gephardt’s campaign focused on his decades-long record of work on behalf of Hispanics in Congress and his close connections with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Latino advocacy groups across the nation.
Graham’s campaign stressed his record as Governor and Senator in support of the
Hispanic community in Florida and nationally as well as his record of earning wide
support from Hispanic voters in each of his successful statewide elections. “It’s going to be very important. Senator Graham has a background dealing with Hispanics as Governor,” said his spokesman Simmons. “He knows nuances that other candidates don’t feel very comfortable with especially in states like Arizona, New Mexico and states with burgeoning Hispanic populations such as Michigan, Oklahoma, and Nebraska and even New Hampshire.”
Kerry’s campaign highlighted the candidate’s background. “We also think Hispanic
voters will find John Kerry’s personal biography very compelling. His service in Vietnam, as a prosecutor, and representing his state in the U.S. Senate, shows that he’s been tested under fire and a man of proven courage – un hombre de gran valentia probado.”
Lieberman’s campaign focused on the candidate’s national profile and personal
background as important factors in early support he has gained within the community.
“One of the reasons why the Hispanic community is disproportionately supporting the Lieberman candidacy is because, in a lot of ways, his story is the story of any minority community in the country.” He pointed to the fact that Lieberman’s grandparents immigrated to America and his parents “worked themselves up” and how “he went on to live the American dream” by being elected to the Senate and nominated for Vice President. “It results in a great deal of pride within his community,” he said.
Democrats are sounding a similar theme as a basis for their campaigns to replace
President Bush in November 2004. Virtually all of the contacted candidates’ campaigns discussed the belief that Bush’s previous presidential campaign promises and words as President have not been matched by his actions as President.
“On the campaign trail, Senator Kerry will talk about the challenges that uniquely affect Latinos, said a Kerry spokesman. “He will continue to make the case that Bush is taking our country backwards and we need a new direction. Simply put, Hispanic Americans feel that George W. Bush has not kept his promise. Hispanic students continue to have the highest dropout rate in the country, they are more than twice as likely to be uninsured, and more than 500,000 Hispanic workers have lost jobs since Bush took office.”
“When it comes to the Latino community, President Bush’s words do not match his
actions,” said a Gephardt spokeswoman. “When President Bush took office he promised to reform unfair immigration laws that prevent hard-working, tax-paying immigrants from adjusting their status. He has failed to do so. In addition, the Bush administration has cut funds for Pell grants, which are critical to help Latino students pay for a college education. Finally, under the Bush economic plan, unemployment rates for Latinos reached 8.1 % in May 2003, the highest since 1997.”
“Democrats will rebuff President Bush’s efforts in the Hispanic community by
highlighting two areas: one, the economy and two, President Bush’s divisive policies which divide us as a country instead of uniting us,” said Kathy Lash, Dean’s spokeswoman. “The Democratic nominee must prove to the Hispanic community that President Bush’s policies undermine the social fabric of this country. His reckless fiscal policies will make it impossible to make the necessary investments in education, health care, the environment and other important social programs, which benefit all Americans, including Hispanics. Most importantly, the Democratic nominee needs to expose that Bush’s commitment to Latinos is only rhetoric. The President has done nothing to make his promises a reality—whether it’s his failure to act on immigration reform, allowing his attorney general to target unfairly all immigrants as terrorists, or failure to fully fund the No Child Left Behind Act. When Latinos see the difference between the Republican agenda and the Democratic agenda there is no doubt the Democratic agenda will win every time.”
Congressman Menendez said that most powerful message will be, “That the president hasn’t kept his word to our community.” He argued that the Bush Administration “demolished the Hispanic education action plan.” Democrats will find room to critique the Administration, “Between leaving 1.6 million Hispanic children out of the child tax credit, to the 1.4 million Hispanics unemployed, to the Administration’s unwillingness to support restoration of benefits to legal immigrant children,” he said.
In addition to similarly themed negative messages about broken promises, candidates are developing positive and contrasting messages that address many specific issues that they believe are important to Hispanic voters. When appealing to Hispanic voters, Gephardt plans to focus on immigrant rights, health care, funding for education, and economic growth.
“Bob Graham is someone that has dealt with these issues before,” his spokesman said. “In Arizona, New Mexico, and California he can talk about border issues, immigrant health, and bilingual education.”
Some Democratic leaders hope the candidates will focus on other positive alternatives to the policies of the Bush Administration. “Democratic candidates will really have to focus on the community and express their vision and message for all Americans and say ‘this is how my presidency will positively affect Hispanic Americans in this country’,” Congressman Menendez said.
Congressman Rodriguez cited Bush’s “attitude right now with Mexico, and the fact that he hasn’t been responsive on education, on health, social security.”
Congressman Grijalva said that the status of immigrants and guest workers
will be on the top of the agenda for the community in Arizona, which shares a border with Mexico.
NALEO’s Gonzalez, whose organization recently conducted a major national poll of
Hispanic voters, said the issues most important to Hispanic voters include jobs, good and safe schools, and health care—as a larger proportion of Hispanics are without insurance than other segments of the population. Democrats have all been focusing on these issues as a general rule and specifically in their early appeals to the Hispanic community.
Popular Use of Spanish-Language Internet Content
Candidates have varied quality of resources on the Internet for Spanish-speaking
Hispanic voters interested in the 2004 presidential primaries and general election.
Spanish-speaking Hispanics interested in politics may now find it less difficult to get information they can understand directly from the campaigns than in the past, but the campaigns still have a lot of work to do.
Congressman Gephardt (http://www.dickgephardt2004.com), Senator Kerry
Spanish-language versions of their website, complete with Spanish-language content and numerous press releases the campaigns have distributed on Hispanic issues. Some of these campaigns have also posted Spanish-language news articles that have been written about their campaigns. The campaign sites for Senator Graham (http://www.grahamforpresident.com) and former Governor Dean (http://www.deanforamerica.com) contain smaller Spanish-language sections with basic background information on the campaigns and the candidates’ stances on the issues. John Edwards (http://www.johnedwards.com), whose campaign did not participate in this report, does not have a Spanish-language campaign website or any resources in Spanish on the site.
The campaigns of Al Sharpton (http://www.sharptonexplore2004.com), Carol Moseley Braun (http://www.carolforpresident.com), and Dennis Kucinich (http://www.kucinich.net) have no web resources for Spanish-speaking Hispanics, though all have repeatedly claimed Hispanics and minority voters will be a focus of their campaigns.
According to his campaign, Graham has conducted interviews with Spanish-language media in Spanish.
For Kerry’s campaign, like the others, “Reaching out to the community in Spanish, through interviews on Univision and Telemundo, through our website, and through John Kerry’s own words, will be an important aspect of the campaign.”
As for the Party, Guillermo Meneses said the DNC places great importance on
communications efforts used to reach Hispanic voters. “Clearly we can do more, and I think that goes for both parties,” he said. “You cannot ignore the numbers. You cannot ignore the fact that a large part of our Hispanic community gets their news and information from Spanish-language print and television and radio. They will definitely play a major role in ensuring that Democrats get their message out to the growing Hispanic community.”
It is important to note that virtually all of the presidential campaigns and national Party organizations currently employ staffers fluent in Spanish who are charged with communicating with the Spanish-language media and reviewing campaign materials used to promote the candidates. It remains unclear whether any of these campaigns have placed Hispanic staffers in the senior decision-making positions on the campaigns, an issue that was unresolved on the Gore campaign in 2004.
Hispanic Elected Officials Offer Advice to Candidates
With increasing attention being paid to Hispanic voters by the current field of Democratic presidential candidates, it is important to note that community leaders and Hispanic elected officials remain cautious about Democratic prospects in 2004.
Congressman Grijalva has some strong advice for the current cast of Democratic
presidential candidates. “Don’t pander. By that I mean have some substance on your issues. Saying a few phrases of Spanish isn’t going to carry the day…This goes back to my cattle call point.” Secondly, “Focus on the future. We’re a young population.
Immigrants, first, second, and third generation. We care about family, education,
community issues, [the] future and investment. Go after Bush. Go after the policies we’re fighting.”
“Treat the Latino voter with the same respect, dignity and content as you are treating the non-Latino population,” Congressman Grijalva said. “That means resources, an appropriate presence in terms of an organization. I think that the candidate that puts together a tight strong field organization will do well. The candidate that concentrates on the airwaves is going to do well, but I am not certain that that person will carry the day.”
Congressman Rodriguez explained that Hispanics need to assume the responsibility of pressuring each other to register to vote and participate in the political process. He said that ignorance of the process within the community is the biggest obstacle.
Hispanic voters have a historic opportunity to decide who will be the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee and also who will become President during the general election. Community leaders, regardless of party affiliation, will need to commit themselves to registering millions of new voters and getting them out to vote during the primaries and on Election Day in November 2004 in order to ensure the community takes advantage of this opportunity. That’s why efforts by groups like the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, that aims to register 2 million new voters this year, are so critical.
New Mexico, Arizona, and a group of other early primary states with large and rapidly growing Hispanic populations provide the Democratic presidential candidates with an opportunity of their own to connect with the community, demonstrate their commitment to the issues that are most important to Hispanics, and lay the groundwork for success in the general election against President Bush.
Money continues to be a major obstacle to efforts meant to increase Democratic Party outreach to Hispanic voters. New federal campaign finance laws that limit the amount of soft money the Party is able to raise for these efforts could significantly limit official Party efforts. New leaders emerging within the Party and affiliated groups present the 2004 presidential candidates with new opportunities to reach Hispanic voters.
About the Report
This report is intended to raise interest in the role of Hispanic voters in the 2004
Democratic presidential nomination process and eventually in the 2004 general election.
It focuses entirely on the 2004 Democratic primary calendar and future reports will
include early efforts now underway by Republicans to earn support from Hispanic voters for the general election. With no current popular discussion of any internal Republican Party opposition to President George W. Bush in the 2004 Republican primaries, much of the President’s Hispanic outreach will be viewed as a part of his general election campaign.
Interviews were conducted throughout May and June 2003.
About the Author
Adam J. Segal is Director of the Hispanic Voter Project at Johns Hopkins University. The project is based at JHU’s Washington Center for the Study of American Government in Washington, DC.