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Even Bush can't lure Hispanics to GOP

By Steve Sailer
November 8, 2000

Despite running the most Latino friendly campaign in Republican history, Texas Gov. George W. Bush still lost to Vice President Al Gore by a landslide among Hispanic voters.

According to exit polls reported by CNN and ABC, Hispanics went for Gore 62 percent to 35 percent over Bush. CBS reported Gore trounced Bush even more dramatically among Latinos: 66 percent to 29 percent. In contrast, Bush won easily among non-Hispanic whites: 54 percent to 42 percent.

Bush's performance raises serious questions about the long-term ability of the Republican Party to win over Hispanic voters. Hispanics made up 7 percent of respondents in the exit poll. However, the number of voting-age Hispanics rose by 47 percent over the last decade, due to immigration and a high birth rate. Mexican-American women average 80 percent more children than non-Hispanic white women. So, the Hispanic share of the vote is bound to rise for decades. The U.S. Census Bureau projected last spring that the total number of Hispanics would grow from 32 million to 190 million over this century. The Census Bureau estimated the number of whites would rise from 197 million to 230 million.

In his search for Hispanic votes, the Texas governor spoke Spanish frequently at ethnic rallies. (One unkind British pundit claimed that Bush had more need of a translator when he spoke English.) He won much applause for empathizing with illegal aliens, as exemplified by his often-repeated line, "Family values don't stop at the Rio Grande." He had his handsome half-Mexican nephew George P. Bush campaign extensively for him. Bush's only policy initiative related to immigration was a promise to reform the Immigration and Naturalization Service so that it would provide faster and politer service to immigrants. All this helped him do better among Latinos than Bob Dole did in 1996, but no better than Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan did when the Hispanic population was much smaller.

Gore won 67 percent to 28 percent among California's 7 million voting age Hispanics (the most of any state).

A California House race tested the upper limits of Republican appeal to Hispanics. In California's 20th Congressional district, a heavily Latino farm belt around Fresno, the California Republicans nominated Rich Rodriguez to challenge incumbent Democrat Cal Dooley. Rodriguez seemed a near-perfect candidate. An articulate and moderate Republican, he was the top rated newscaster in the district. And, like most California Mexican-Americans, he is a dark-skinned mestizo with high cheekbones. Still, he lost 53 percent to 45 percent. Rodriguez went down to defeat because Hispanics voted overwhelmingly for Dooley the Anglo. (Granted, there's something odd about the current California convention of calling a man named "Dooley" an "Anglo.") In the last poll, Dooley led Rodriguez 60 percent to 29 percent among Latinos.

Bush did best among the Hispanics (overwhelmingly Mexican-American) in his home state of Texas, which has the second largest Latino population. There, Bush lost by only 54 percent to 42 percent. Yet, among white Texans, he won by the overwhelming margin of 73 percent to 24 percent. In other words, the white-Hispanic gap in Texas was 61 points.

California Republicans widely blame former governor Pete Wilson for awakening the sleeping giant of the Mexican-American vote. In 1994, Wilson won re-election by backing Proposition 227, which was intended to cut off government services to illegal immigrants. (It passed easily, but the courts later threw it out.)

While it is fashionable to blame Pete Wilson for the difference, it may be that that Texas is actually the anomaly, not California. For example, in Colorado, a thousand miles from Wilson, Hispanics voted for Gore 68 percent to 25 percent. In Arizona, Gore's margin was 65 percent to 33 percent.

There are fundamental cultural and political differences between Texas' and California's Mexican-American populations. These suggest California will be voting Democratic long after Wilson is forgotten. Texas tends to draw immigrants from industrialized northern Mexico, where Mexican President-Elect Vincente Fox's conservative, Republican-style PAN party is dominant.

In contrast, California has long attracted immigrants from central Mexico, where the most popular parties are the leftist coalition of former Mexico City Mayor Cuauthemoc Cardenas and the PRI, the former ruling party out-going President Ernesto Zedillo. The PRI resembles an old-fashioned Tammany Hall-style Democratic machine. Increasingly, immigrants are also arriving in California from impoverished southern Mexico, where the Marxist guerillas under Subcommandante Marcos control part of Chiapas state. Thus, it's not surprising that in Texas, Mexican-Americans are more likely to vote Republican than in California.

In the third most important Hispanic state, New York, Gore demolished Bush among Latinos 80 percent to 18 percent. New York's Latino community has traditionally consisted of Puerto Ricans, but there are growing numbers of Dominicans and Mexicans.

Florida has the fourth biggest Hispanic community. It is widely believed to consist almost entirely of staunchly Republican Cubans. But other Hispanic groups are growing more rapidly than Cubans. That's one reason why the exit poll showed Bush winning Hispanics in Florida, where every voted mattered, by only a 50 percent to 48 percent margin.

Hispanics cost Bush New Mexico's five electoral votes. The Texas governor lost by 2 percentage points overall in his neighboring state because the one third of the electorate that is Latino voted 66 percent-32 percent for Gore.