Sergio Bustos and Pamela Brogan, Gannett News Service, News-Leader.com (Mo.), Aug. 26
Washington — Hispanics may soon become the forgotten voters of the 2004 presidential campaign.
That’s because the race to the White House has boiled down to 20 so-called battleground states, including Missouri, where Hispanic voters are few and far between.
The 13,000 Hispanics in Missouri who voted in the 2000 presidential race accounted for just 1 percent of all state residents who voted in the election. White voters, by contrast, accounted for almost 88 percent of those who cast ballots. President Bush beat Democratic candidate Al Gore by 78,786 votes in Missouri.
“Our numbers may be small but our votes are very important,” said Yolanda Lorge, president of Grupo Latinoamericano in Springfield, a nonpartisan community group that helps Hispanics with issues like voter registration, immigration and education.
“It’s not just the Hispanic vote we are talking about, but other Americans who care about Hispanics, like husbands and wives, employers and neighbors,” she said.
Lorge, who founded the group 18 years ago, said she has noticed that Hispanic voters are much more interested in this presidential race.
“There’s a lot more energy in terms of wanting to vote and wanting to be heard,” she said.
Lorge also said her group has been courted by both presidential campaigns.
“Last election, they didn’t know we existed,” she said.
Hispanics represent more than 9 percent of voters in only five battleground states: Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Florida. White voters dominate all the battleground states — the places where President Bush and Democrat John Kerry have spent the most resources and time campaigning.
“It’s going to be a white-determined election,” says Bill Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution think tank who has analyzed Hispanic voting data collected by the Census Bureau.
He found that white voters make up 86 percent of all voters in the competitive states, while Hispanic voters remain largely concentrated in states that already are considered safe bets for Bush or Kerry.
Indeed, Bush is expected to easily win his home state of Texas, which has 22 percent of the nation’s Hispanic voters. And Kerry is believed to have locked up California, New York and Illinois, which combined represent 39 percent of all Hispanic voters.
“We have an aggressive outreach program in Missouri,” said Bill Burton, a spokesman for the Kerry-Edwards campaign.
The Bush-Cheney campaign has a Hispanic leadership team in Missouri. It is the first time the GOP has organized in Missouri to attract the Hispanic vote.
“This is a new effort, but the grass roots is the best way to register them,” co-chair Adolfo Castillo said.