INDEPTH: US ELECTION 2004|
Courting the Hispanic vote
CBC News Online | October 20, 2004
If traditional voting patterns hold on Nov. 2, John Kerry will do very well among black voters. George W. Bush will grab the lion's share of votes among Florida's Cuban-American population. It's not as clear which way the rest of the Hispanic vote the fastest-growing segment of the American population will go.
That's one reason Bush and Kerry are spending a lot of time in states like Florida and New Mexico in the final phase of the campaign.
The Hispanic minority is rapidly changing the country's complexion. In Florida, the battle for the Hispanic voter is being waged most aggressively in the Orlando area.
More than 800,000 Hispanics live along the so-called I-4 corridor that stretches from Daytona on the east coast to Tampa Bay in the west, with Orlando in the middle. Most Hispanics in the corridor have not registered as likely voters for either major party. Their vote could be enough to tilt the election in a state that was decided by 537 votes in 2000.
Most of the Latinos in the corridor are Puerto Ricans working in the construction and tourist industry. They've arrived without any strong partisan leanings.
"Both parties know if you win the non-Cuban Puerto Rican Hispanics, you're likely to set your party in good stead for the next 10 years," said Susan McManus of the University of South Florida. "They're the most sought-after prize in politics. They're a simply must-have part of the voters in the 2004 election."
This group of potential voters is being registered, polled and canvassed more than any other. Everywhere in the community, there's a quiet satisfaction that Latinos are flexing new muscle in U.S. politics.
On a local Spanish language radio station,, talk show host Magda Torres urged her audience to make sure to vote. Most of her callers are middle- and lower-income people struggling to get by.
"It's very difficult for an educated Puerto Rican to find a job in central Florida," Torres said. "Here, what you can find are blue-collar jobs and perhaps some of them are part-time jobs, and Puerto Ricans and other Hispanics, they have to go and work one, two, and three jobs with no health insurance or health plans. Lots of struggle."
In a place where money is tight anti-war feelings among these Latinos are unusually strong. Most, like David Garcia, say the war is a waste of money.
"They're saying on TV that over $200 billion is being spent in Iraq. We have people dying because they don't have food here, people going hungry. It's sad to be a country the way we are and to have so many issues that we should not have."
Jose Santiago is also worried about the economic fallout from Iraq.
"It's hard to find jobs because everything is going over there. I'm hoping they can end this war faster than ever so we can get back into our jobs, opening up more businesses to give the Hispanic communities a chance to go to work."
But Hispanics are quick to point out that while they're preoccupied with pocket book issues, they don't vote as a bloc. While many lean to Kerry, it's not hard to find those who say that Bush will make the stronger leader.
"He's tougher, and he did something very important for the nation, that was to take care of the business with terrorism," one woman told CBC News. "Sometimes Mr. Kerry said that he's going to go against terrorism, but at the same time he's going to take our soldiers from Iraq. So I really don't know how he's going to do it."
Kerry has made several campaign appearances in the region. But getting his message across after four hurricanes swept through has not been easy. Especially when Bush has been able to offer hurricane victims a lot more than just compassion.
"I've asked Congress to provide $12.2 billion to respond to hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne," Bush promised during a September visit.
Then there's Bush's not-so-secret weapon: his brother Jeb. The governor of Florida is fluent in Spanish, married to a Mexican, and popular enough to swing a lot of Latino votes. Even so, political scientist Susan McManus says forecasting Florida is dangerous.
"After all, only 537 votes determined who won last time. Pundits are crazy if they predict Florida too soon. If there's any lesson in this election, it is that politics is changing on a dime," McManus said.
Almost 3,000 kilometres to the west: lies New Mexico, the state with the highest number of Hispanics in the country, about 42 per cent of all voters. In theory, the state should be an easy win for Kerry. The Hispanic vote has long been solidly Democratic.
This year, Republicans believe they're breaking through because of people like
Jacqueline Ortiz. Like most Hispanics in New Mexico, Ortiz traces her lineage back to the Spanish settlers of the 17th and 18th centuries. She's a new Republicans because of the party's appeal to traditional family values and its opposition to abortion.
"I'm a Republican because I have a very conservative bent with the moral issues," Ortiz told CBC News. "I'm pro-life...and President Bush is a staunch pro-life supporter. He's a Christian as am I."
Darren White the local chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign says the Democrats have taken the Hispanic vote in New Mexico for granted.
"I think you've seen the Democratic party just say 'Hey, it's been traditionally a Democrat vote,'" White said. "[That could] lose them the Hispanic community because they've lost it from the standpoint of the core values."
Christine Sierra, a professor of political science at the University of New Mexico, suggests the Republicans may be deluding themselves.
"The key thing is that Latinos are not single-issue voters and it is not abortion that surfaces, that rises to the top of the list of issues that they are concerned about."
The traditional core issues for Latinos, Sierra says, are jobs, health care and education. One of Kerry's problems is the domination of the campaign by issues like Iraq and national security.
Meanwhile, the evidence grows that Hispanics and blacks in the United States continue to fall further behind whites economically.
A report released by the Pew Hispanic Center (http://www.pewhispanic.org/site/docs/pdf/The%20Wealth%20of%20Hispanic%20Households.pdf) on Oct. 18, 2004, shows a wide gap in the wealth of white, Hispanic and black households. It shows the median net worth of white households in the United States in 2002 was $88,651. For Hispanic households, it was $7,932. For black households, the figure was $5,988.
The report also found that in the last recession between 1999 and 2001 wealth of Hispanic and black households plunged by 27 per cent. Whites fared far better, adding two per cent to their net wealth during that recession.
Hispanic immigrants from Central American and Caribbean countries had a net worth of only $2,508 in 2002. Cuban immigrants who tend to vote Republican were far better off with a net worth of $39,787. Mexican immigrants are in the middle with a net worth of $7,602 in 2002.
Voting age population (VAP) in 2000:|
Eligible voters (VEP) in 2000:
Voter turnout (% of VEP) in 2000:
Numbers of seats up for election (2004):
House: 435 (all of them)
Senate: 34 (of 100)