By James G. Lakely | THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Hispanics were mostly absent from high-profile speaking slots at the Democratic National Convention this week in Boston, prompting rumbles that presidential nominee John Kerry may think that voting bloc is solidly in his column.
Jorge Ramos, anchorman for the main evening news program on Spanish-language Univision, told Fox News yesterday that he has heard complaints from Hispanics that their votes might be taken for granted.
“Some are complaining that’s why they haven’t seen as many Hispanic speakers in prime time,” Mr. Ramos said.
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, the highest-ranking Hispanic in the Democratic Party, is the chairman of the convention and has spoken in prime time. Rep. Robert Menendez of New Jersey also has taken the podium.
Neither address, however, focused on exciting the Hispanic vote, which various polls show leaning heavily Democratic.
“Teresa Heinz Kerry did speak in Spanish for one sentence in her speech,” said Michael McDonald, visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. “But there has been very little direct outreach to Hispanics at this convention. Maybe the Republicans can one-up for them on that and have someone speak for a while in Spanish.”
This comes in sharp contrast to the amount of prominent speaking time Democrats gave blacks, from the national debut of rising star Barack Obama to the fiery old guard of the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
President Bush got 35 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2000, and the overwhelming support he received from the large Cuban-American community in Florida was particularly vital because he won that state, and thus the White House, by only 537 votes.
Yet polls show that support could be slipping.
A Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research poll released yesterday showed that 65 percent of Hispanics supported Mr. Kerry, compared with 30 percent for Mr. Bush.
The poll also showed 60 percent of Hispanics thought the country was on the “wrong track” and gave Mr. Bush a job approval rating of 37 percent, well below the national average of about 50 percent.
Hispanics represent the largest minority in the United States, with a population of 40 million and a growth rate of 58 percent in the 1990s. Since Ronald Reagan’s victory in 1980, every Republican presidential candidate who earned at least 30 percent of the Hispanic vote has won.
Both Mr. Kerry and Mr. Bush speak Spanish, but Mr. Ramos said mere linguistic fluency and lightly worn cultural symbols are no longer enough to woo Hispanic voters.
“People have told me that this time we have to go beyond sombrero and taco politics,” Mr. Ramos told Fox News, noting that the candidates have to address the needs and desires of Hispanics directly.
The lack of attention to Hispanics at the Democratic convention, Mr. McDonald said, could create an opportunity for Republicans.
Mr. Bush has tried to woo Hispanics by relaxing immigration rules and speaking about conservative values, which many Hispanics share.
The 2000 Republican convention featured Hispanics prominently ó notably the nephew of the president, George P. Bush, whose mother was born in Mexico ó and next month’s convention in New York may trump that.
“Was the Democratic convention a missed opportunity to reach out to Hispanics? Perhaps so,” Mr. McDonald said. “They could have had more Hispanic speakers up there.
“This provides an opportunity for Republicans in their convention to showcase how they care about issues that are important to Hispanics,” he said. “They will be able to bring up all sorts of Cuban-Americans in Congress [to speak]. I’m sure they will be featured prominently at the convention.”