Don't underestimate the Latino vote
November 14, 2001
The political landscape has changed. The Latino vote, once ignored, is now a crucial factor in deciding national and local elections.
Even in New York City and Los Angeles, two cities where Latino candidates lost, the Latino electorate helped shape the outcome of recent elections. Political analysts in New York believe that a defection of Latino voters from the Democratic Party affected the outcome of the Nov. 6 election. Latino voters were put off by the arrogant tactics of Democrat Mark Green, who beat a Latino, Fernando Ferrer, in the primary and failed to mend fences afterward.
In Los Angeles, Mayor James K. Hahn, who won the June election against a Latino candidate by a slim margin, told ABC News, "It's not a bad idea to brush up on your high school Spanish if you're running for office in America."
Latinos are the largest and fastest growing ethnic group in the United States, with more than 32 million living in the country, according to the 2000 Census report.
Latino mayors have been elected in San Antonio, Passaic, N.J., and more recently in Austin, Texas, Miami and Hartford, Conn.
And now politicians of all stripes are acknowledging this "Sleeping Giant" of American electoral politics.
A couple of months before the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush's advisers told him that he would need to boost his share of the Latino electorate to more than 40 percent if he expected to win re-election, according to an article in the New York Times. So Bush sought to legalize the status of Mexican migrants and met repeatedly with Mexican President Vicente Fox in an effort to woo Mexican-American voters -- the largest group of Latinos in the United States.
And this past May, Bush held a Cinco de Mayo celebration on the South Lawn of the White House. He made the presidential radio address in Spanish, a first in U.S. history, saying, "Mi Casa Blanca es su Casa Blanca" -- "My White House is your White House."
Not to be outdone by Bush's growing appeal among Latino voters, the Democratic National Committee has begun a multiyear, multimillion dollar "Hispanic Initiative" -- an effort that will include polling, fundraising, grassroots organizing and advertising, all targeted at Latino voters. Traditionally the party of Latino voters, the Democratic Party has learned it can no longer afford to take them for granted.
Latinos should make more use of the franchise. Latinos make up roughly 12 percent of the U.S. population, yet they are only 8 percent of all registered voters, according to the latest Census data. But fortunately, the number of registered Latino voters nationwide is growing, up 164 percent between 1976 and 1996, according to the U.S. Hispanic Leadership Institute.
Candidates beware: How you handle issues that are important to Latinos could be key in deciding political futures.
Bernardo Ruiz is a free-lance writer and documentary producer living in New York City. He can be reached at email@example.com.