January 30, 2004

Hispanic Tuesday:

The Hispanic Vote and the 2004 Democratic Primaries

By Adam J. Segal
Director, Hispanic Voter Project
Johns Hopkins University

(This is an abridged version of Hispanic Tuesday. For the full text please visit http://www.jhu.edu/advanced/government/hvp)

Hispanic voters will play a historic new role in the Democratic presidential primaries. For the first time, two states with large, growing Hispanic populations, New Mexico (Hispanics are 42.1% of the population) and Arizona (25.3%), will hold primaries or caucuses on the same date in the first multi-state round of Democratic presidential contests, February 3, 2004 – Hispanic Tuesday. With a competitive field of Democratic candidates now in place, the growing Hispanic communities in early primary states have greater ability to influence the outcome of primaries than at any previous time. This means that earlier than ever before, and at a higher rate than ever before, Hispanics in key electoral states will be part of some of the important first primaries, wielding more deciding influence on which candidate will represent the Democratic Party in the general election.

Adding to the historic nature of the presidential election, Hispanics, broadly defined, are now the largest minority population in the United States. Now more than 38.8 million strong, they are rapidly commanding new influence on American culture and society.3 This election will be a test of the diverse Hispanic community’s voting influence during the primaries and general election than in previous years.

While post-2000 redistricting across the nation may have curtailed Hispanic influence in many congressional districts, the community’s ability to influence the presidential primaries and general election has increased. This is a result of shifting demographics and the fact that Hispanic voters comprise a significant and growing part of the electorate in key general election battleground states. Despite this opportunity, community organizers, candidates, parties, and interest groups face the obstacle of registering new Hispanic voters and ensuring high turnout on election days. According to Party spokespeople and activists interviewed, the Party and its affiliated groups will make substantially more resources available for Hispanic outreach than in previous elections.

The potential rising influence of Hispanic voters can make the difference for Democrats in another close presidential election in 2004. With as many as three million new voters, the diverse Hispanic population in the United States could become the single most important key to Democratic success, assuming past allegiance. Recent early polls indicating a small gap between support for Bush and a Democratic nominee demonstrate just how close the election could be in the Hispanic community. As a result, early attention by the Democratic candidates will be critical to their success. Many Democratic campaign strategies and messages have emerged and are likely to be at the center of the general election pitch to Hispanic voters.

To win Arizona and New Mexico, and influence the California (32.4% Hispanic), New York (15.1%), Texas (32%) and Florida (16.8%) primaries, where Hispanics will also play a major role, candidates will need to demonstrate their credentials before the Hispanic community and develop better grassroots strategies than in previous elections. While money and endorsements will play a critical role in disseminating each candidates’ message and earning broader support, many top officials recently interviewed warned that candidates and the Democratic Party will need to take a more personal, dedicated approach to reaching this community. Grassroots efforts are needed in order to win wide support and develop national community enthusiasm. Success in the primaries will be critical to victory in the general election. Some Democratic Party faction leaders are putting resources behind new independent efforts, and expectations are that millions of dollars will be raised for these plans.

Democratic Party officials are excited about this year’s primary calendar and how it allows Hispanics to have greater influence on the process. “It’s a very diverse, very competitive, balanced, orderly calendar,” said Guillermo Meneses, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee. “We are seeing some small, medium and large states… with large Hispanic populations that are playing key roles. You are seeing more and more, as the numbers of Hispanics grow, states with large Hispanic populations will play an even larger role in deciding who the Democratic nominee will be. They will continue to see their political power grow.”

By all indications, Democrats will have to work harder than in previous elections to secure a majority of the Hispanic vote in key battleground states and nationally. While some Hispanic groups are planning to host forums for each of the candidates, Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva argued against relying on these types of events as a centerpiece to a campaign’s Hispanic strategy. “What I hope doesn’t happen, but history is the indication, is that we have a cattle call where everybody doesn’t deal with the substantive issues,” he said. “I don’t think you can just do the traditional Latino cattle call.” He warned of candidates who develop an impersonal resume of previous support for the community that is used in campaign materials, speeches, and advertisements. “If they do that boiler-plate it’s not going to work,” he said.

Aware of the stakes, most of the candidates and campaigns are eager to be seen as reaching out to the Hispanic community early in the campaign, particularly in Arizona, New Mexico, and others that follow rapidly after February 3.

“Arizona and New Mexico are very important states in Governor Dean’s effort to take back America,” said Kathy Lash, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean’s campaign deputy press secretary. “They will be the first big test after Iowa and New Hampshire and Governor Dean plans to campaign very rigorously in these states. No candidate can win either of these two primaries/caucuses without significant support in the Hispanic community. In fact, New Mexico has the highest percentage of Hispanics in the electorate (42%) than any other state.” In addition, she noted, “How a candidate does on February 3 with Hispanics and African Americans will have an impact on his/her ability to appeal to states with other large ethnic populations like California, Texas and New York which all hold their elections exactly one month later on March 2.”

“The high number of Hispanic-populated states participating early in the primary calendar is truly unprecedented,” said Dagoberto Vega, a spokesman for Senator John Kerry’s campaign. “John Kerry is thrilled that Hispanic voters have a significant voice in the process. It reflects their growing influence in our political culture. He believes that Latinos should be an integral part of our national dialogue to make America stronger and more secure. We are not only focusing on New Mexico and Arizona. Hispanic Americans could play an influential part in other early primary states, such as California, New York, Florida, Texas, Illinois, and Virginia.”

Democrats are sounding a similar theme as a basis for their campaigns to replace President Bush in November 2004. Virtually all of the contacted candidates’ campaigns discussed the belief that Bush’s previous presidential campaign promises and words as President have not been matched by his actions as President.

“On the campaign trail, Senator Kerry will talk about the challenges that uniquely affect Latinos, said a Kerry spokesman. “He will continue to make the case that Bush is taking our country backwards and we need a new direction. Simply put, Hispanic Americans feel that George W. Bush has not kept his promise. Hispanic students continue to have the highest dropout rate in the country, they are more than twice as likely to be uninsured, and more than 500,000 Hispanic workers have lost jobs since Bush took office.”

“Democrats will rebuff President Bush’s efforts in the Hispanic community by highlighting two areas: one, the economy and two, President Bush’s divisive policies which divide us as a country instead of uniting us,” said Kathy Lash, Dean’s spokeswoman. “The Democratic nominee must prove to the Hispanic community that President Bush’s policies undermine the social fabric of this country. His reckless fiscal policies will make it impossible to make the necessary investments in education, health care, the environment and other important social programs, which benefit all Americans, including Hispanics. Most importantly, the Democratic nominee needs to expose that Bush’s commitment to Latinos is only rhetoric. The President has done nothing to make his promises a reality—whether it’s his failure to act on immigration reform, allowing his attorney general to target unfairly all immigrants as terrorists, or failure to fully fund the No Child Left Behind Act. When Latinos see the difference between the Republican agenda and the Democratic agenda there is no doubt the Democratic agenda will win every time.”

Some Democratic leaders hope the candidates will focus on other positive alternatives to the policies of the Bush Administration. “Democratic candidates will really have to focus on the community and express their vision and message for all Americans and say ‘this is how my presidency will positively affect Hispanic Americans in this country’,” Congressman Menendez said.68 Congressman Rodriguez cited Bush’s “attitude right now with Mexico, and the fact that he hasn’t been responsive on education, on health, social security.”

Congressman Grijalva said that the status of immigrants and guest workers will be on the top of the agenda for the community in Arizona, which shares a border with Mexico.

For the full report visit: http://www.jhu.edu/advanced/government/hvp

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