Hispanic Democrats extol Kerry
Party leaders spoke to the media in a call aimed at upstaging Monday's GOP event in Orlando.
By Mark Silva
Sentinel Political Editor
On the issues alone, says Latino leader Henry Cisneros, Democrat John Kerry's campaign for president should have more appeal than President Bush has among Hispanic voters.
Cisneros, former U.S. secretary of Housing and Urban Development, joined Los Angeles city Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa and others Friday in a discussion organized as a pre-emptive strike for the rollout Monday of President Bush's national Hispanic campaign steering committee in Orlando.
The president's brother, Gov. Jeb Bush, will host the re-election rally at noon Monday at the Latin Quarter restaurant at Universal Orlando's CityWalk.
"They frankly can kick off any effort they want, but they are a long way off on the issues," Cisneros said in a Kerry campaign conference call with reporters.
He cited job losses, an absence of health care, and school reforms reliant on testing as the record Bush will have trouble defending among Latinos.
"They are focusing their efforts here because they know they have a fight on their hands," said state Rep. Bob Henriquez, a Tampa Democrat, on the call.
Kerry is committed to raising the minimum wage, added Villaraigosa -- noting that one in five minimum-wage workers is Hispanic.
"The American dream can't just be for some of us," Villaraigosa said. "It has to be for all of us."
Jeb Bush says George W. Bush's bid for Hispanic votes has a lot going for it.
"The campaign will work hard to earn the Hispanic vote in Florida based on a fine record," Bush told the Orlando Sentinel.
"Homeownership is at record highs," he explained. "A strong national defense is clearly an advantage. Tax cuts have helped small businesses and individuals. The president has stood for strong moral values, and his advocacy of high standards for all students in education resonates in the Hispanic community."
The steering committee of Hispanic leaders that the president's campaign will announce Monday is 64 names long, including business and political leaders.
It includes Miami attorney Al Cardenas, former state GOP chairman; state Rep. John Quinones, R-Kissimmee; brothers and U.S. Reps. Mario and Lincoln Diaz-Balart of Miami; and businessmen Sergio Pino and Manuel Medina of Miami.
The Democratic National Committee says its Hispanic outreach has been under way for months, starting with early party primaries scheduled in Arizona and New Mexico. The DNC notes that 80 percent of elected Hispanics are Democrats.
Is it any coincidence that Vice President Dick Cheney will deliver a commencement address at Florida State University, with its board of trustees run by Jeb Bush's close friend John Thrasher, a former speaker of the state House?
Cheney's May 1 appearance will mark the first time a vice president has delivered a commencement address at Florida State. He will address graduates of the colleges and schools of business, education, human sciences, information studies, motion pictures, music, nursing and social work.
"This is an exciting opportunity to hear from someone who has had great success in business and public service," said Thrasher, FSU board of trustees chairman.
It's also someone who hopes to keep Florida in the president's column for re-election six months from this commencement.
At the University of South Florida, Professor Kathleen de la Peña McCook -- speaking strictly for herself -- thinks she spots a trend, with U.S. Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican, addressing University of Florida graduates April 30. "Florida this year seems to be using the commencement event to rally the voters," she said.
Marc Racicot, national chairman of the Bush campaign, returned this week to Tallahassee, hub of court battles about the disputed 2000 presidential election.
Racicot, former Republican National Committee chairman, led a Republican army encamped at the state party's red-brick George Bush Republican Center during a 36-day post-election struggle, the building now housing Bush's state campaign office.
"It stirred a number of memories within our minds and hearts," Racicot
said of his return to the scene. "We're going to do everything we know
how to do to make absolutely certain that we don't occupy the building
after November of 2004."