Outreach Effort Lures Hispanics to Bush
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush parlayed an aggressive outreach effort and campaign themes of moral values and fighting terrorism into increased support from Hispanics to help him win re-election.
Bush's gains thwarted Democratic Sen. John Kerry's hopes that Hispanic growth in Western states could offset political losses in the Midwest and South. It was the second election where Bush was able to cut into the Democrats' advantage among Latinos.
Analysts and Hispanic groups viewed that development and the election of two Latinos to the Senate as signs of the growing political clout enjoyed by one of the nation's fastest-growing voting blocs.
``You cannot take a look at the Hispanic vote monolithically,'' said Maria Cardona, senior vice president of the New Democrat Network, a centrist Democratic group that spent about $6 million in Latino-targeted advertising for Kerry. ``The bottom line is Hispanics are increasingly one of the most important swing vote groups in American politics today.''
Exit polls conducted for The Associated Press and television networks found Bush winning 44 percent of the Hispanic vote, up from 35 percent in 2000. Kerry won 53 percent, down from 62 percent four years ago for Democrat Al Gore.
One-third of Hispanics said they were born-again Christians and nearly 20 percent listed moral values as their top issue, suggesting they have more in common with Republicans than Democrats in some areas. They supported Bush by more than a 3-to-1 margin.
Hispanics placed more weight on moral issues than in the past, said University of New Mexico political scientist Chris Garcia.
``I'm not saying that the Democrats saw the Latino vote for granted ... but this is a major lesson,'' Garcia said.
Adam Segal, director of the Hispanic Voter Project at Johns Hopkins University, said Bush's campaign ads on abortion and gay marriage on Spanish-language media outlets in the days up to the election may have helped. Democrats have criticized those ads for using what they called fear tactics to sway voters.
About 18 percent of Hispanics listed fighting terrorism as their first priority, and they favored Bush by a similar 3-to-1 margin, according to the exit polling conducted by Edison Media Research/Mitofsky International.
Bush won the support of four in 10 Mexican-Americans, which combined with strong support from Cuban-Americans to help the president take more overall Latino support away from Democrats.
The election of Cuban-born and Republican Mel Martinez to the Senate in Florida may have helped Bush gain more support from that state's Hispanics than in 2000, despite the big push by both parties to win over the state's fast-growing non-Cuban, Hispanic population. Among all Florida Hispanics, Bush edged Kerry 56 percent to 44 percent, compared with the president's 49-48 edge over Gore in 2000.
Kerry did better in the Southwest battlegrounds of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada, where combined the Massachusetts Democrat won 70 percent of the Hispanic vote to 29 percent for Bush.
Cardona, Segal and other analysts pointed to another exit poll from the William C. Velasquez Institute, a Los Angeles-based nonpartisan research group, as proof that Bush's gains among Hispanics this year may have been overstated. That poll found Kerry enjoyed a 2-to-1 advantage similar to Gore's support in 2000.
Regardless, both sides boosted their Hispanic-targeted, grass-roots efforts. But Kerry ``was still undefined in the minds of many Hispanics,'' Segal said. Bush often appears more comfortable at Latino events and can speak some Spanish.
Nationally, early estimates show that at least 7 million Hispanics went to the polls, more than 1 million more than in 2000. In the Senate, Martinez will join Sen.-elect Ken Salazar, D-Colo., as the chamber's first two Latinos in more than a quarter-century.
``It's a landmark election for the Latino community,'' said Harry Pachon, of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute in Los Angeles. ``Ten years ago, no one would have talked about an exit poll about Latinos.''
Associated Press writer Will Lester in Washington contributed to this report.