DALLAS—President Bush won a majority of the Hispanic vote in Texas on Tuesday, a landmark accomplishment that aided his easy victory in his home state, according to an Associated Press exit poll.
The survey of voters also found that Texans who voted in the general election strongly supported Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq and praised his performance in office.
The exit-poll findings on Bush’s support among Hispanics in Texas—just under 60 percent—were similar to results in Florida but nearly the mirror image of the nationwide vote, in which Democrat John Kerry won about 55 percent of the Hispanic vote.
In his first run for the White House four years ago, Bush carried 43 percent of the Hispanic vote in Texas and 35 percent nationally, according to exit polls.
Bush courted Hispanics in Texas during his six years as governor and in both his presidential campaigns. Bush’s campaign ran Spanish-language advertisements this year, and he has sprinkled a few words of Spanish into stump speeches to Hispanic audiences.
Lydia Camarillo, executive director of the San Antonio-based Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, a nonpartisan group that signs up Hispanic voters, said Bush won admiration in the 1990s for opposing anti-immigrant legislation.
Bush also employed Spanish-speaking campaigners, including Bush’s Mexican-American nephew, George P. Bush, Camarillo said. Still, she said many exit polls have overstated Bush’s appeal among Hispanics.
At Mesita Elementary School in El Paso, several Hispanic voters said they favored Kerry because they believed Bush’s policies, such as his tax cuts, favored the wealthy at the expense of working people.
Kerry “is willing to help the low-income people,” said Rosa Marquez, a 56-year-old assistant store manager. “I’m tired of people who are rich being richer.”
But Bush’s inroads among this traditionally Democratic voter bloc could be seen in Claudia Soto, 31, an El Paso homemaker and mother of a 1-year-old.
Soto said she liked some of Kerry’s ideas, such as raising the minimum wage. Still, she voted for Bush because she believed the president would wage a stronger war against terrorism while Kerry “usually votes against the war.”
In Rio Hondo in South Texas, Melquiades Uresti, 59, had a succinct explanation for voting for Bush.
“He’s the president, and he’s a good president,” Uresti said in Spanish. “That’s all there is to it.”
The figures on Bush’s Hispanic support were gleaned from a survey of 1,794 voters leaving randomly selected polling places, including 346 absentee or early voters interviewed by telephone during the past week. Results were subject to sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, higher for subgroups.
The survey was conducted for AP and television networks by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International.
Nearly half the voters surveyed described themselves as conservative, and they voted 5-to-1 for Bush. Nearly two-thirds said they supported Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, and they also voted overwhelmingly for the president.
Nearly half the voters surveyed were white Protestants, and they voted more than 3-to-1 for Bush.
Kerry had few bright spots in Texas. He easily won among blacks and narrowly carried the over-65 vote. Not surprisingly, he won most of the voters who opposed the war.
Víctor Manuel Ramos, Cristina Elías and Walter Pacheco, Orlando Sentinel, Nov. 3
Hispanics in Florida again bucked national trends and supported the Republican presidential candidate, but apparently not as dramatically as in 2000.
Exit polls showed loyalty to the GOP had eroded some among Hispanics, with President Bush garnering more votes than his Democratic opponent, but John Kerry capturing a higher percentage than Al Gore did four years ago.
Meanwhile, U.S. Senate candidate Mel Martinez, a Cuban refugee and Republican, was doing better than Bush, pulling an estimated 59 percent of the vote, compared with the president’s 54 percent, according to Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International.
“Florida usually favors Republicans, and we have seen signs of a shift,” said Antonio Gonzalez, president of the William C. Velasquez Institute, a San Antonio research group that also did exit polling here.
“It’s an interesting voting trend, because it would be a sea change in Latino voter behavior in Florida.”
Now the largest minority group in the country as well as in Florida, Hispanics were the target of multiple registration drives and campaigns.
Still, they remained a wild card. Even if categorized as one ethnicity, most experts agree that Hispanics are by no means a solid voting bloc. Although nationally they tend to support Democrats, in Florida they have leaned Republican—mostly because of the Cuban vote.
However, the state’s Puerto Rican constituency, with its coveted swing votes, has grown significantly. Add to that other Hispanic immigrants.
“One thing Latinos have shown across the country is we will defy predictions and easy classification,” said Marcelo Gaete, an officer with the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials in Los Angeles.
Several pre-election surveys and studies had predicted a significant rise in Latino voters. More than 180,000 are registered in Central Florida.
The effort to get Hispanics out apparently paid off in the Buenaventura Lakes neighborhood of Osceola and others like it. Voters turned out in droves to the community’s library in a precinct where 56 percent of the voters are Latinos.
Some joked, as they waited in a line that snaked around the building, that the vote reminded them of Puerto Rico, where elections sometimes become festive occasions.
“The only thing missing is a guiro and a conga,” said María Corsino, a 75-year-old native of Luquillo, Puerto Rico, who was surprised to see the crowd after 26 years living in Orlando.
Soraya Castillo, a volunteer with the Puerto Rican Federal Affairs Administration at an Engelwood polling site, said the showing there had been impressive. “They are coming in threes and fours, practically the whole family is voting,” she said.
Many were thought to be first-time voters, reflecting the swelling population and get-out-the-vote efforts.
“It’s as if we had been preparing for a test and this is the moment to shine,” said Marytza Sanz, director of Latino Leadership, one of many groups that held voter drives.