August 25, 2000
By Jerome DeHerrera
Over the past month or so, the presidential campaign became interesting to the Latino community as the two major candidates selected their vice-presidential running mates and presented to the country the strengths of their parties at their respective national conventions.
The result of these events and the subsequent higher level of interest in the election has led to an abrupt shift in momentum towards Al Gore and away from George Bush.
This shift in momentum is most visible in the latest ABC News/ Washington Post survey of likely voters who now favor Al Gore over George Bush, 53% to 45%.
The shift in momentum is also evident in the tones of each campaign. The Gore campaign has been successful in laying out specific goals such as providing all children with health care, expanding Headstart to all children and providing a prescription drug benefit to seniors.
The Bush campaign on the other hand has been forced to defend a tax cut which most economists predict will cost between $1.6 and $1.9 trillion over the next ten years and which will disproportionately benefit the wealthy. For many Latino families, the question is not only whether the Bush tax cut is affordable, but should a tax cut for all Americans be our number one priority when our education and health care systems clearly need help?
So how did the momentum shift so quickly and noticeably? The conventions and the vice presidential picks of each candidate played a big role. These two events gave Latinos and all Americans a chance to see beyond the promises of each candidate and examine for the first time their actions.
Earlier this summer, Bush was seen as the strong-minded outsider trying to create a new compassionate and inclusive Republican Party, while Gore had been portrayed as the liberal of old who would say or do anything to get elected. Their vice presidential selections however reversed these perceptions.
Al Gore, by selecting the Jewish-American Senator Joe Lieberman, is now viewed as the candidate who with a single action tore down another barrier facing ethnic and religious minorities. Gore is also being viewed as the candidate who chose a running mate that will challenge his party to continue as the centrist party.
George Bush is now being perceived as the candidate whose words described a new Republican Party of compassion and inclusion but whose selection of the conservative Dick Cheney was a retreat to the conservative principles of the 1980s. And maybe even more importantly, Bush's selection of Cheney signaled that Bush wasn't confident enough in his own stature to challenge the conservative faction of his party.
So as the summer begins to fade, it appears that the American people may be surprising the pundits by using their sophistication to look beyond the promises of their candidates for President and focusing on their actions.
It will be interesting to see if polling that will soon be done by noted pollster Sergio Bendixin of Florida will capture the same shift within the Latino community. Latinos are starting to pay more attention, and it may well be that in the end, Bendixin's polling data will suggest that Hispanics saw the differences between the candidates in the same way as the general public.
The election is a little more than two months away and the fact that Latinos are paying more attention to the campaign is a good sign for our families who will be affected greatly by our next President.
Jerome writes a political column from Washington, please
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