GOP Hopes To Make Inroads With Hispanics

Michael R. Blood, AP, August 9, 2007

Democrats hold an edge with Hispanics in national elections, but Latinos’ growing tendency to register as independents and split their vote between parties is buoying Republican prospects for 2008.

Younger and college-educated Hispanics in particular offer fertile ground for the GOP, new data show. And while no one suggests Republicans have become the party of choice for the nation’s fastest-growing minority, Democrats have been gradually losing ground.

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President Bush claimed 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004, a record for a Republican presidential candidate. But it will be challenging for the party to repeat or build on that performance—Bush’s popularity has withered and many Hispanics were soured by remarks by GOP conservative hard-liners during the immigration debate.

Although Hispanics tend to vote Democratic, the percentage of Latinos who call themselves Democrats has declined in the last decade, even as the overall number of Hispanic voters climbed.

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Research last year by the Public Policy Institute of California found that Hispanics in California are about equally divided among those who describe themselves as conservative, liberal and moderate.

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In 2002, the institute said 18 percent of likely Hispanic voters were registered as independents or some other party. By 2006, the percentage had climbed to 22 percent. Republicans gained a few percentage points in registration over that time.

Democrats continue to hold a healthy advantage with Hispanics, and nearly seven in 10 Hispanic voters supported Democratic congressional candidates last year. Party leaders say independent Hispanics lean Democratic, so the registration percentage dip is not as significant as the figures might suggest.

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Hispanics identify themselves as Democrats by at least a 2-1 margin, but younger people are more likely to register as independents and are more willing to split tickets, said Lindsay Daniels, a voter registration coordinator for the National Council of La Raza, the nation’s largest Hispanic advocacy group.

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Pineda said Hispanic immigrants who become citizens and register to vote become Democrats in nearly 70 percent of the cases, with Republican registration at 18 percent. In the next generation, Democratic registration drops to 56 percent and GOP registration increases to 25 percent. By the third U.S.-born generation, Democratic and Republican registration among Hispanics is nearly equal.

While newer arrivals to the United States feel more strongly about immigration issues, subsequent generations share the concerns of Main Street America—the war, taxes, education, crime, he said.

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GOP polling in the California governor’s race last year found that college-educated Hispanics who make more than $60,000 a year are more receptive to Republican ideas than are those with less education and income.

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