CA PRIMARY: Presidential Candidates Court the Latino Vote
With Super Tuesday fast approaching, presidential hopefuls from both parties are courting votes in California, placing an extra emphasis on Latino voters, who comprised 11% of the electorate in California's 1998 election, the Orange County Register reports. Luis Arteaga, associate director of the San Francisco-based Latino Issues Forum, said, "The fight for the Latino vote has occurred very early on. Traditionally, it's been an afterthought." Toping Latino voters' concerns is access to affordable health care, which also "happens to top the list of the average voter, making it easier for presidential contenders to address Hispanics' needs." However, Latino voters are a group "whose likes and dislikes are hard to track." Harry Pachon, director of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute, said, "Although most Latinos are registered Democrat, certain parts of the Republican agenda resonate well with the Latino voters, like antiabortion. That's the complexity of the Latino vote." Regardless, the candidates have launched multipronged campaigns aimed at Latinos, including interviews and advertising in Spanish-language media, appearances in predominately Latino populations and endorsements from key Latino leaders and organizations. Bill Bradley (D), Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R) and Vice President Al Gore (D) all have Web sites with information about health care and other issues in Spanish. Specifically, each is emphasizing his connection to the Latino population. During the Texas gubernatorial race, Bush played up his opposition to California's Proposition 187, which would have cut benefits to illegal immigrants, while Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) credits the 55% of the Hispanic vote as "key to helping him win office in Arizona." On the other side, Gore is "capitalizing on gains made during the Clinton administration," and Bradley "hopes to win over voters who say they don't know yet which candidate they favor." And even though the Latino voting population is not a major voting bloc, it is "large enough to swing a close race" and "too large to continue being an afterthought for presidential candidates" (Canto, Orange County Register, 2/24).
California, the Bellwether
In the meantime, with McCain's wins in Michigan and Arizona, McCain's California supporters believe he "has a shot," while Bush supporters "are a bit jittery." Buck Johns, a longtime political activist, said of McCain, "At the time, it was thought that the only winner was George W. Now we're looking at a new guy, and he looks like he can lead us to victory." McCain views California's open primary as "another opportunity to attract Democrats and independents," as well as an "important indication of how he could do in the fall as the nominee." But even if McCain does well with the overall popular vote, Bush "is still heavily favored to come away with the real prize -- the state's 162 GOP delegates." Still, Michael Schroeder, former GOP state chair and member of the local Bush committee, said that if McCain pulls off a win in total votes, it "would be an embarrassment and show (Bush's) weakness with the broader electorate. And that could be a problem for him in the fall" (Bunis, Orange County Register, 2/24).