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Presidential candidates vie for Latino support

June 22, 1999
Web posted at: 5:39 p.m. EDT (2139 GMT)

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, June 22) -- The bilingual efforts of the two presidential front-runners, Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush, to secure Latino support come as a sure sign that the race for the White House might, for the first time, also be a race for the Latino vote.

"There's no doubt that, especially after George W. Bush's victory in (the Texas election) this past November, that Latinos are now on the national radar," said Gregory Rodriguez, a fellow at the "New American Foundation."

Since that gubernatorial race has already given Bush an advantage with the Latino voters, Rodriguez said, other presidential candidates will try various tactics to attract a share of this vote as well.

Lately, Gore has also been addressing Latino voters and sometimes speaking Spanish. During the official announcement of his presidential bid last week, and later in a speech in New York, Gore made several comments in Spanish, indicating that he is determined to follow in the footsteps of his biggest opponent.

Gore reached out to Latinos again over the weekend when he told the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials that ensuring an accurate count in the next census is the key to political empowerment.

The poll numbers may explain why. In the upcoming 2000 presidential elections, the support of the Latino constituents is expected to be as crucial as it proved to be four years ago.

According to 1996 exit polls, 72 percent of all Hispanics voted for President Bill Clinton. But in polls this year, only 47 percent of Hispanics say they favor Gore over Bush.

The gap is widest among Hispanic women. Fully 78 percent of them voted for Clinton in the last election and only 48 percent say they will vote for Gore.

"I think you'll see for the first time in American history two candidates, each representing the major parties of the United States, campaigning extensively in Spanish," said Fernando Ferrer, a Latino leader. "It will be a sight to behold."

Yet, in this bilingual race the candidate's accent will not matter as much as their stand on the issues.

Latinos all across the country may find politicians' new-found love for campaigning in Spanish interesting or even funny -- comparing notes on which candidate has the better accent -- but in the end many remain skeptical of what it all means.

"I really don't think they address Latino issues, none of them," said Illary Quinteros, Gore supporter.

Bush supporter Bob Estrada, said the Texas governor's stand on Hispanic domestic issues forms a huge part of his base as governor.

Hispanics already make up about 10 percent of the U.S. population and by 2005 are projected to overtake blacks as the nation's largest minority group. Already, they are a key constituency in certain important states.

Texas, a state where Latino voters already makes up about 17 percent of the electorate, is among the several states where a Hispanic vote could tip the scales.

They could play a critical role in states like California, New York and Florida which, along with Texas, carry the largest blocs of electoral votes.

But presidential hopefuls' proclivity to look at the huge Latino electorate as one block would not be the right approach, said Rodriguez.

"I don't think a candidate for president can hope to appeal to all Latinos," he said. "In fact, I really suggest that they again desegregate their approach and try to reach Latinos regionally and by state in order to understand the local issues."

CNN's Maria Hinojosa contributed to this report.

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Tuesday, June 22, 1999

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