Judging from the survey, it looks like the Democrats wanted to get into the mind of "the Hispanic voter." Right now they're probably wishing they hadn't.
The national survey of Hispanic voters, conducted by Sergio Bendixen, a Miami-based Democratic pollster, revealed a major shift in Latino political thought. Far short of affirming the Democratic Party's belief that Latinos are theirs and theirs alone, the Bendixen survey showed Latino support for Bush at an all-time high.
Were a presidential election rematch held today, Bush would be even with former Vice President Al Gore among Hispanics. In 2000, Gore won among Hispanics with 62 percent of the vote, with Bush netting 35 percent. Now they are both around 45 percent.
While Bush's overall approval ratings are hanging tough in the low 70s, he remains at a just-after-Sept. 11 82 percent among Hispanics.
Predictably, Bush leads congressional Democrats on issues such as "terrorism," "protecting family values" and "relations with Latin America." However, his commanding lead on "protecting workers' rights," "immigration," "improving education" and "respecting Latinos" spells trouble for Democrats attempting to hold on to their old "reliables."
That last "issue" is the real killer for Democrat activists. Regardless of how many income-redistribution schemes you toss to a minority group (the tried-and-true Democratic solution), once voters start to feel like they're not being respected, the jig is up.
The fact that Latinos believe Bush is more respectful of them should signal a sea-change in the traditional methods of "minority outreach." Long time GOP activists working with Hispanic voters have known for some time that the GOP's "Hispanic outreach" efforts are focused on respect and inclusion, not pity and handouts.
Yet for months now, Democrats have been pooh-poohing Bush's efforts to attract Hispanic voters. At first, their criticism was of the "look at those wacky Republicans" variety. They found the notion of Republicans and their ideas finding favor with any minority group simply laughable. However, once they realized that Bush's interest in connecting with Latinos was a serious long-term goal, Democrats shifted into cynical mode, with their leaders asking sarcastically, "What have Republicans done for Hispanics?"
Democrats then tout all the money Democrats had tried to wrest from greedy Republican hands in the name of low-income, poorly-educated Hispanics.
The reality, as far as Republican activists are concerned, is that the GOP has done a great deal for Hispanics. Bush's tax cut, which Republicans in Congress championed, did more, they argue, for the economically ascendant Hispanic population than any of the failed Democratic proposals would have.
Likewise, the variety of choices provided in the president's education bill gave Hispanic parents, who are often unhappy with their education options, the flexibility to play a bigger role in their children's future. Finally, Bush's Social Security plan greatly benefits the 95 percent of Hispanics who are under 65 years of age.
That is why comments from Democrats like New Jersey Rep. Bob Menendez, who claimed "The Republican message to Hispanics is loud and clear: Stay out of politics," are not only wrong, but destructive.
One would think a member of Congress of Cuban descent, regardless of party, would be ashamed to put political posturing ahead of the progress of Hispanics, or any other minority group.
Then there is the "respect factor." Beyond policy decisions, Bush and the Republican Party have made a concerted effort to ensure Hispanics become an integral part of the American political landscape. This is good for America. Whether it is good for Democrats, is entirely beside the point.
Republicans and the country as a whole have no vested interest in Hispanics becoming an aggrieved minority group held down by low expectations and held back by self-serving party machinery.
Hispanics are the largest and fastest-growing minority population in the United States. They have rising incomes, increasing property ownership and skyrocketing entrepreneurship. As such, the Hispanic population is large enough and prosperous enough that the Democrats' habit of terming anything having to do with low-income, poorly-educated Americans a "Hispanic issue" would be silly if it weren't so offensive.
Here is a Republican tip for Democratic leaders McAuliffe, Tom Daschle in the Senate and Richard Gephardt in the House of Representatives as they appear to be having a tough time with the new fangled political tactic known as "respecting minorities": Feel free to mention Hispanics in policy speeches that deal with issues other than just welfare, unemployment, food stamps, crime and the minimum wage.
Democrats have long dismissed the polling data that proved Bush is succeeding with Latinos. Now Democrats have their own data, which tells them the same exact thing. They can either take a long hard look at the way they "recruit" Hispanics, or they can continue to pander and condescend as they have for years.
Either way, Bush and the Republican Party can be counted on to continue wielding their most powerful weapon: respect.
(Raul Damas is director of operations at Opiniones Latinas, a bilingual polling firm.)
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