By Mary Jo McConahay and Elena Shore
(Editor’s Note: New California Media is surveying the reaction from ethnic media editors across the nation on the 2004 elections.)
When all the results are in, Hispanics may be seen as going for Bush in greater numbers than even Republicans hoped for perhaps 40 percent nationwide. According to Pilar Marrero, political columnist for Spanish-language daily La Opinión in Los Angeles, Republicans in the area organized in Spanish-language evangelical churches to get the conservative, religious Latino vote. Though Latinos usually say they care about social issues such as education, health and the economy, Marrero says, Republicans won on the strength of the war on terror, the fear that Kerry could not sustain the war, and an appeal to conservative, religious Latinos by focusing on moral issues such as gay marriage and abortion.
In San Diego, editor Daniel Munoz Jr. of La Prensa San Diego agrees the war on terrorism affected Hispanic voters, suggesting Kerry was “just not able to get his message to stick” about the economy, jobs, and other domestic issues. Munoz believes Democrats took the community for granted. Despite the 30-year old paper’s early and strong endorsement of John Kerry, Republican Party representatives and offices of local Republican candidates maintained communication with the paper during the campaign. Yet with the exception of contact from the office of incumbent U.S. senator Barbara Boxer, La Prensa received not a single call or visit on behalf of local or national Democrat candidates, said Munoz. According to Marrero, both parties effectively ignored La Opinion, which has one of the nation’s largest Spanish-language readership.
“The party has lost step with those who have the most reason to vote Democratic,” said Munoz. “Hispanics see the need for government and health benefits, but also want to see moral backbone on issues they care about.”
The Mexican American community is less comfortable than some other Democrats with the gay marriage issue, for instance, according to Munoz. In the run-up to the election, La Prensa ran a series reporting on the loss of civil liberties in the Bush administration. While the threat of rights erosion affects the community as a whole, “it’s an issue you can’t feel or touch unless it hits you personally,” suggests Munoz. The gay marriage and lifestyle issue, however “is all around and on TV and strikes an emotional chord.”
“They’ve left behind Democrats who have a little Republican in them.”
The successful Arizona initiative denying some services to undocumented immigrants reflects the fear of growth of the Hispanic community, said Munoz, much as the famous passage of California’s proposition 187 later struck down did in the l990s. Yet for many Hispanics, Democrats are not doing anything to address or alleviate the fears of conservatives.
An exception to the slow rise of support for Republicans among Hispanics may be the Florida surprise: Republicans lost their overwhelming command of the Cuban and Latino vote in Florida, says Joaquim Utset, political writer for El Nuevo Herald, a Miami-based Spanish-language daily owned by Knight Ridder. According to the New Democratic Network, Bush won 55% of Florida’s Latino vote, down from 65% in 2000, Utset says.
Utset attributes this shift to Bush’s increasingly extreme restrictions on travel and sending money to Cuba, which prevented many Cubans in Florida from visiting their families.
The older generation of Cubans in Florida is also decreasing in number as the younger generation is growing, says Marrero. The young still oppose Fidel Castro, Marrero says, but they have concerns such as health care, education and the economy, that make them less inclined to vote Republican.
Most importantly, Marrero says, the Latino vote in Florida is becoming more diverse, with non-Cuban Latinos (who tend to vote Democratic) growing in number. If Florida continues the current shift towards an expanding population of non-Cuban Latinos, and a growing population of younger Cubans, Marrero says, Florida may shift to vote Democratic in the future.