Hopefuls Target N.M. Hispanics
Powerful Bloc May Hold Key to Victory
By Evelyn Nieves
Washington Post Staff Writer
SANTA FE, N.M. -- Whatever their strategy in the other six states holding
primaries or caucuses Tuesday, here in the land of pastel sky,
the Democrats who would be president have been lobbying New Mexico's powerful voting bloc: Hispanics.
New Mexico is the nation's most Hispanic state, with 42 percent of the
population, or nearly 800,000 of its 1,820,000 residents, of Hispanic
background. Non-Hispanic whites make up 44.7 percent; and American Indians, about 10 percent. Unlike other states with large Hispanic
populations, the majority of New Mexico's Hispanic population goes back generations in the state. About 80 percent of Hispanics here are
U.S. citizens, 60 percent are of voting age, and more than half are registered to vote, the vast majority -- about 80 percent -- as Democrats.
Still, in 2000, when Hispanics made up 30 percent of the vote, Al Gore
beat George W. Bush here by just 366 votes, underscoring the
importance the Democrats have given to winning over Hispanics and getting out the Hispanic vote this year.
The major candidates have been running ads on Spanish-language television
for weeks, and all six candidates on the ballot (Al Sharpton is
not on the state ballot) have visited or plan to visit Hispanic strongholds in the last few days before Tuesday's caucus. Retired Army Gen.
Wesley K. Clark, whose campaign is counting on a win or near-win in New Mexico, arrived here first, the day after the New Hampshire
primary, and has been delivering his stump speech in fluent Spanish. Sen. John F. Kerry's wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, has been stumping for
her husband in Spanish, as well.
In primaries past, New Mexico was virtually ignored. The state voted
in June, when the party's choice was all but decided. This year, the
Democratic candidates began calling on the state's leading Hispanic organizations and officeholders last summer, courting endorsements and
Adam J. Segal, director of the Hispanic Voter Project at Johns Hopkins
University, said that not only will Hispanic voters have more power
this year in deciding who will represent the Democratic Party in the general election, but they can also make the difference for Democrats
in another close presidential election -- making them "power brokers" for the first time.
State Democratic officials estimate the Hispanic vote could be 50 percent of the total Tuesday.
Gov. Bill Richardson (D), who is Hispanic, said New Mexico is crucial
because it will test how the Democrats' message plays to Hispanic
voters. "There are new sets of issues that the candidates have to face," he said. "When the Democrats come here, they talk about border security issues, homeland
security that the federal government hasn't provided, the Native Americans being ignored."
These issues and others, such as health care and the environment, resonate
with all voters in New Mexico, Hispanic or not, Richardson said. And Hispanics
of whom trace their heritage to when the Spanish colonized New Mexico in the 16th century, are not as preoccupied with immigration issues as are Hispanics in states
with newer immigrant populations.
Many of the key people running the campaigns in New Mexico are Hispanic.
And for the leading contenders here -- Kerry, Clark, former Vermont governor
Dean and Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) -- a large part of the strategy has been amassing prominent support from Hispanic elected officials.
Kerry's campaign, which has brought Henry G. Cisneros and Sen. Edward
M. Kennedy (Mass.) to New Mexico in the past few days (both popular among
here), has signed on the speaker of the New Mexico House, Ben Lujan, among its prominent Hispanic supporters. Clark's campaign boasts a former governor, Jerry
Apodaca, and a former ambassador to Spain, Ed Romero, among its heavy-duty campaigners. Dean, who staffed his New Mexico operation with many of Richardson's
campaign aides who happen to be Hispanic, has another former governor, Toney Anaya, on his list. Edwards's most prominent booster is the state attorney general,
All of the candidates can boast as supporters Hispanic county and local
legislators. New Mexico has 683 elected Hispanic officials, according to
Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. Richardson, who is chairman of the Democratic National Convention, has pledged neutrality in the primary.
The governor said Dean has the most organized, well-run campaign apparatus
in the state, while Kerry has the momentum ("Even though he hasn't really
had much of
an operation here, New Mexico's voters are very pragmatic") and Clark has wide appeal among veterans and military families, making those three candidates the
leading contenders in the state.
"The candidates with a military background have an advantage," Richardson
said, adding, "I would say Clark has enormous potential. We have a lot
veterans." One of three Hispanic families in New Mexico has a member who has served or is serving in the military.
"We've been targeting Hispanics through veterans," said Clark's campaign
director, Luis Vizcaino. "Veterans are 50 percent of the vote, and many
of those veterans are
Clark has been telling New Mexicans about his single mother relying
on veterans' benefits to make ends meet when he was a boy. "I think Hispanics
and veterans see
Clark as one of their of their own," Vizcaino said. On Wednesday, Clark visited an American Legion hall expecting an audience of 200. More than 600 people showed
up, Vizcaino said, and 250 people signed up to volunteer to help Clark's campaign this weekend.
Francisco Castillo, Dean's campaign director here, said Dean, who was
the first candidate to open statewide offices here in August, has been
targeting: "Hispanic voters,
many of whom don't have health insurance, by explaining how he plans to do here what he did in Vermont and provide health insurance for everyone under 18. . . . If
we can just get out our base, we can win this."