Democrats Design Agenda in Bid to Hold Hispanic Support
New York Times
July 10, 2003
By CARL HULSE
WASHINGTON, July 9 - Moving to protect their political advantage with
Hispanic voters against aggressive Republican encroachment, Congressional
Democrats are preparing to showcase a policy agenda aimed directly at this
increasingly sought-after bloc.
Developed with Hispanic lawmakers and to be made public on Thursday, the
platform promises Democratic backing for a variety of initiatives on civil
rights, the economy, education, health care and immigration. Party leaders say
they hope it helps solidify support among what is now the nation's largest
minority. They plan to contrast the party's stand with what they describe as a
failure by the Bush administration to follow through on commitments to
"Democrats have a different vision for America's future, one that reflects
time-tested American values and the voices of the hard-working majority of
Hispanic-Americans, not just the elite few," a draft of the policy agenda
The Democratic push comes as Republicans, led by President Bush, are seeking to
cut into Democratic strength among Hispanics. Just today, the White House and
top Hispanic groups announced a partnership to improve educational
opportunities. Senate Republicans have also sought to use a
fight over a Hispanic judicial nominee to undermine Democrats.
"This is a universe of voters that the Republican Party has long recognized as
extremely important," Christine Iverson, a spokeswoman for the Republican
National Committee, said, "and we as a party have been aggressively reaching out
to Hispanic voters."
But Democrats said Republicans could be thwarted by high unemployment among
Hispanics as well as the disappointment reflected in some polls that the Bush
administration had not met Hispanic expectations for better ties with Latin
America and eased immigration.
Officials who worked on the Democrats' agenda acknowledged that it did not
represent a significant number of new proposals. Its importance lies, they said,
in its thematic approach, tying together ideas, for example, on small business
aid, work force language training, government-provided health coverage and
providing money that has not been forthcoming for promised education programs.
"What is important here is pulling programs together in a comprehensive fashion
and showing the Hispanic community we are with them on the issues they care most
about," a senior Democratic aide involved in developing the agenda said. A group
of Democratic senators were briefed today on recent poll findings that show both
opportunities and risks for Democrats when it comes to Hispanic voters.
"Democrats can no longer consider the Hispanic electorate as a base vote," Maria
T. Cardona, director of the Hispanic Project at the New Democrat Network, said.
The network helped the party create the agenda, and it financed the poll of 800
Hispanic voters conducted May 27 through June 3, with almost half the interviews
conducted in Spanish.
"They are increasingly looking at the Republican Party as an option," Ms.
The survey findings and other data assembled by the New Democrat Network reflect
that. In a hypothetical 2002 presidential matchup performed by the group,
President Bush - who won 35 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2000 - was at 44
percent among Hispanic voters. The president's brother
Jeb, the governor of Florida, whose wife is a Mexican native, won the Hispanic
vote outright in the governor's race last year, even among Hispanics outside
South Florida's generally conservative Cuban-Americans.
But the recent poll found that the president's support among Hispanics was
slipping, with his approval rating declining and his showing in another
presidential matchup dropping to 34 percent while support for a Democrat was at
48 percent. Sixty-nine percent of those surveyed said they
felt that the president had not kept a vow to make Latin America a foreign
The poll also found that the Senate fight over a judicial nominee, Miguel
Estrada, was not resonating with Hispanics although a future fight over a
Supreme Court vacancy could be a different story.
"We need to see this as a huge opportunity to really take advantage to start
reaching out early and often and not treating Hispanic voters as an afterthought
as has happened in the past," Ms. Cardona said of the survey results.
Republican officials said they saw the agenda as politically motivated by
"They see eroding support among the Latino community, and this is their wake-up
call," Sharon Castillo, who oversees Hispanic outreach at the Republican
National Committee, said. "Is it going to help? No. For too long, they have
taken the Hispanic community for granted."
Ms. Castillo attributed her party's gains to the president's personal
involvement with Hispanic issues and disputed the notion that he had not
followed through on his promises about Latin America. She pointed to a free
trade agreement with Chile and continuing talks about immigration changes.
But the agenda, which will be announced by Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota
and Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, along with members of the
Congressional Hispanic Caucus, states otherwise.
"Beyond photo ops and political rhetoric," it says, "Republicans have done
little or nothing to advance Hispanic priorities."