Posted on November 1, 2004

Bush, Kerry Hit Latin America’s Biggest TV Show

Matthew Hay Brown, Orlando Sentinel, Oct. 31

Amid the lip-sync contests, beauty makeovers for lucky audience members, and scantily clad dancers, President Bush and John Kerry made a last big push for the Hispanic vote Saturday evening.

In what is becoming a quadrennial tradition, the candidates appeared on the Spanish-language variety show Sábado Gigante — Giant Saturday — talking to grandfatherly host Don Francisco in separate, prerecorded interviews about immigration, faith and family.

“This is the most important election of our lives,” Kerry said in Spanish to Don Francisco, the stage name of Mario Kreutzberger, during a campaign stop in Scranton, Pa. “All that is important for our families is at risk.”

He spoke of raising the minimum wage, increasing access to education and health care, and reforming immigration.

Bush, who received Kreutzberger at the White House, spoke of the Hispanic “culture of family and faith,” and touted education and a proposed guest-worker program. Invited to speak in Spanish, he said: “I want all Hispanic votes to hear my words and vote for me on Nov. 2.”

A Latin American institution, the program has made itself a key venue for presidential candidates seeking the crucial Hispanic vote — a major bloc not only in Florida, but Colorado, New Mexico and other battleground states.

The 42-year-old show claims 100 million viewers in 42 countries, including 3 million in the United States.

In a closely contested race, the candidates have lavished unprecedented attention on the nation’s largest minority, spending millions of dollars on Spanish-language radio, television and print ads, giving interviews to the Hispanic media and dropping Spanish phrases into speeches before Hispanic audiences.

Bush and Al Gore appeared on Sábado Gigante before the 2000 election.

“We believe this is an extremely important subject for our audience, for our Hispanic community,” Kreutzberger said in the broadcast. “Our vote today counts in the United States.”

Exit polls that year showed Hispanics voted for Gore over Bush by a ratio of nearly 2-to-1. A survey by the nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center in Washington, D.C., in July showed Kerry enjoying a similar lead over Bush.

Roberto Suro, director of the nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center in Washington, says the candidates’ appearance on the show indicates how close the race is in Florida — but he questioned how many viewers would go to the polls Tuesday.

“I would think that you are primarily reaching immigrant and nonvoters,” Suro said. “But it is a gesture, akin to salting a few words of Spanish in a speech, that Hispanic voters will appreciate.”