December 15, 2000


Commentay

Don't Count Me Out

By James E. Garcia

I'm feeling a little disenfranchised.

In the modern-day parlance of U.S. presidential politics, this, of course, means I'm worried my vote may not have counted.

I don't mean to sound naive, but at what point did the press get bored with the idea that the presidential race could be decided by Latino voters?

Remember how early in the campaign Al Gore and George W. Bush were telling us how much they just adored all things Latino.

"Te quiero mucho!" "I really like you guys," Gore proclaimed at every possible turn. While Señor Bush gushed and gloated about "la sangre Hispana en mi familia." Meaning he had Hispanic blood coursing through his family tree — or at least one of its branches. Brother Jeb, as we all now know, is married to a Mejicana, who managed to beget a model campaign surrogate, Bush's hunky and exponentially more articulate nephew, George P. Bush.

P, some said, stood for pretty. It also stood for pure political expediency — though, no more so than Gore's crass claim that he'd love nothing more than to have his next grandson born on Cinco de Mayo — the anniversary of the famous Mexican battle against the French.

Aye, aye, aye!

Still, as the campaign dragged on Gore and Bush did a decent job of keeping their eyes on the Latino prize.

With President Clinton shoring up Black support and Joe Lieberman corralling the Jewish vote, Gore turned to a star-studded team featuring the Great Brown Hope, Henry Cisneros, to spread the word to Latinos Democrats far and wide.

The Bush team, in turn, blanketed Spanish-language radio and TV with its unadorned, if vacuous, appeal to Hispanic family values.

Alas, by summertime the mainstream press all but lost interest in the story of how, or why it even mattered, that Latinos could impact the presidential contest.

I was disappointed but hardly surprised, given that relatively few Latinos work in mainstream news media, and even fewer still fill the ranks of those assigned to cover politics — this in a nation where more than 1 of 10 Americans is Hispanic.

The novelty, at least as far most of the press was concerned, had worn off. So they moved on.

End of story? Maybe not.

Fast forward to the election day fiasco we've now come to know and love as the Florida recount. As the courts hash out whether Bush or Gore won by the thinnest of razor-thin margins, all sides agree the outcome will be decided by just a few hundred or a few thousand votes.

Either way, I would argue that Latinos were the deciding factor in Florida's presidential vote count.

Oh, sure, blacks turned out 90 percent plus for Gore, and most Jewish seniors stuck with the vice president in the end. And, yes, most overseas military personnel picked Bush, as did conservative voters in the Florida Panhandle.

But think for a moment what might have been if Gore hadn't ticked off so many Cuban Americans in the Elian affair? Or if Bush had abandoned the GOP's right-wing by backing a proposal to let more illegal immigrants remain in the United States?

When it's all said and done, who's to say it wasn't Latinos, instead of African American or Jewish voters, who actually picked our next president?

Then again, I hear Florida has an unusual concentration of near-sighted people who are all thumbs. So maybe they're the ones who really deserve the credit.

Aye, aye, aye...Maybe we all should have voted for Ralph Nader. Or maybe it was us who mistakenly voted for Pat Buchanan.

James Garcia is editor and publisher of Politicomagazine.com, a webzine covering Latino politics.

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