By MIKE SCHNEIDER | Associated Press Writer
John Kerry can win the White House if he earns two-thirds of the 3 million Hispanic voters who have been added to registration rolls since 2000, Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe said Saturday.
By doing so, Kerry - the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee - would bring three more states into the Democratic fold in the Electoral College, McAuliffe said at a Hispanic Leadership Summit sponsored by the Democratic National Committee.
“Our party is reaching out, reaching out for victory and we’re going to get there with your help,” McAuliffe said.
McAuliffe’s political calculation was the foundation for the three-day conference that brought 350 elected officials and activists from more than 20 states to Orlando. A similar conference was held last year in New Mexico, but the Orlando conference was three times larger.
The goal of the summit was to train activists on voter mobilization, generate enthusiasm for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry whose campaign was criticized initially for not doing enough Hispanic outreach and attack President Bush’s record.
Sharon Castillo, a spokeswoman for Bush-Cheney ‘04, didn’t return a phone call. But Joseph Agostini, press secretary for the Republican Party of Florida, said the Kerry campaign was “missing the boat” on Hispanic outreach.
“While they’re here for three days talking, our people are out there in the neighborhoods walking,” Agostini said.
In a nation almost evenly divided along political fault lines, the nation’s Hispanic voters can decide the 2004 presidential election, the Democratic leaders said. As a result, Hispanics in solidly Democratic states such as California should register voters in swing states, such as Nevada, they said.
“You are key more than any single group of people,” said Simon Rosenberg, president of the New Democrat Network, a Democratic-aligned advocacy group that has launched a multimillion dollar campaign on Spanish-language television and radio criticizing President Bush and urging Latinos to vote Democrat.
Democrats have their work cut out for them. Fifty-four percent of Hispanics and African Americans are unregistered, said Vincent Fry, an official with the Democratic National Committee. In California, 3.4 million Hispanics were eligible to vote in 2000, but only 1.5 million Hispanics did.
Hispanics in the Midwest - a population that has grown substantially during the past decade - could prove pivotal in states where the presidential race in 2000 was decided by just tens of thousands of votes, said Luis-Elizondo-Thomson, director of Hispanic Outreach for the Kerry for President campaign.
It was no coincidence that Saturday’s conference was held in the nation’s largest swing state, Florida, whose 25 electoral votes sent President Bush to the White House in 2000.
This time around, Florida has two more electoral votes in the 2004 election. The state’s importance was underscored this week by appearances in Orlando by Kerry on Wednesday and by Vice President Dick Cheney in Palm Beach County and Orlando on Friday.
Republicans have made an equal claim on winning the Hispanic vote in Florida. Last month, President Bush kicked off his Hispanic outreach campaign in Orlando at a rally led by Gov. Jeb Bush, who won Florida’s Hispanic vote during his re-election in 2002, and his Mexican-born wife, Columba.
But McAuliffe cited recent Democratic efforts to court Hispanics, such as moving up the primaries in states with large Hispanic populations such as Arizona and New Mexico, making sure a presidential debate was held in New Mexico and naming as the chairman of the party’s convention Bill Richardson, who has been mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate.
The possibility of Richardson being chosen for the presidential ticket, highlighted by New Mexico Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron, drew a standing ovation from the crowd.
“Who knows? We may be electing our first Hispanic vice president!” she said to applause.