By Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
With less than three months to go until the elections, Latino voters constitute one of the most coveted voting blocs in 2004. While polls show most voters have already decided who they will cast their votes for, Hispanics stand out as one of the few groups of voters that remain up for grabs. With so few undecided voters in America and so many of them Hispanic, it is safe to say that the outcome of the 2004 elections will hinge on each party’s ability to attract Hispanic voters to their candidates and their causes and then mobilize them on November 2nd.
Long ignored as a critical voting bloc, the 2000 elections marked a quinceañera-style emergence for Hispanic voters. The unprecedented levels of spending on Spanish-language advertising and campaign materials, coupled with the Bush campaign’s commitment to develop relations with the Spanish media and voters, demonstrated the importance of communicating with a constituency long taken for granted by Democrats. Suddenly, notable Spanish television personalities such as Sabado Gigante’s Don Francisco, Univision anchor Jorge Ramos and Telemundo’s Pedro Sevcec were included on the same list as Tim Russert and Larry King as must-do interviews for candidates.
Since becoming the first female Hispanic woman elected to Congress in 1989, I have seen the Republican Party commit itself to Hispanic outreach efforts that are now continuous in nature. President Bush and the Republican Congress have provided principled leadership and promoted a Republican agenda that is aligned with the Hispanic community’s cultural and social values. By promoting job growth and the entrepreneurial spirit, improving education and health care, protecting our nation and promoting homeownership, Republicans are delivering on the issues important to Hispanics.
When reaching out to Hispanics, there is no substitute for bundling the names and faces of our candidates with the values they represent and the policies they advocate. Winning the Hispanic vote boils down to offering effective solutions to issues, listening, including them in the process and proving that you have their best interests at heart. The Republican Party has delivered on all counts.
President George W. Bush’s historic 35 percent share of the Hispanic vote served as a watershed for the Hispanic community, signaling the Republican Party’s commitment to reach out to the Hispanic community as no other party had done before. President Bush and the Republicans understood that reaching out to Hispanics could not be an occasional effort; it was about having a continuous dialogue with them. In the following election in 2002, the fourth Hispanic Republican was elected to Congress. A telling sign that the Republican Party is indeed making inroads with the Hispanic community is evident in a recent poll that found that approximately a third of all Latino Republicans say they were once Democrats, while few Republicans have switched allegiance. For Republicans, earning and maintaining the respect and confidence of the Hispanic community has always been important, not just during election time.
Hispanics are widely regarded as being independent-minded and are known to ignore party allegiances when choosing candidates. According to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), many Hispanic voters say they will vote for the candidate who best represents their interests, regardless of party, and are adopting a “wait-and-see” attitude. In an election year where so many Republicans and Democrats are strongly backing their candidates, the group that holds the key to the White House is Latinos. With less than three months to go until the election, many of them are still open to what both parties have to offer in their candidates and their messages.
While others will spend the next three months scrambling to remake themselves and altering their message, Republicans look forward to this as a time for reminding Hispanics what we have accomplished and why our vision for this country is a vision of a better future for Hispanics.
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen was the first Hispanic woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1989. She represents the Eighteenth District of Florida, which includes parts of Miami-Dade County and the entire Florida Keys.