Bush, Kerry battle for Hispanic vote

Hispanic voters are hot commodities this year, as President George Bush and Democrat John Kerry fight to win their support in what is expected to be an extremely close presidential election on November 2.

There are more than seven million Hispanic voters in the United States, and their ballots could be decisive in five swing states where they make up a large chunk of the population — Arizona, Florida, New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado.

Although Hispanics traditionally vote Democratic, many support Republican Bush for his perceived Christian piety and his opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage.

In the 2000 presidential election, 62% of Hispanics voted for Democratic candidate Al Gore. Conservative Cuban-Americans in Florida however might have tipped the election toward Bush, who won the southeastern state — and the election — by just 537 votes.

Jobs and the economy top the concerns of Hispanics, followed by education, the war on terrorism and the Iraq war, according to a recent Washington Post poll.

Both campaigns have made an unprecedented effort to court Hispanics, even running ads in Spanish to reach out to the 40-million-strong community, the country’s largest minority group.

The challenge is convincing them to cast ballots on election day, said Joe Velasquez, president of the Democratic group Hispanic Action.

”Getting Hispanics out to vote must be the overriding objective,” he said.

Democrats say 6,9% of Hispanics are unemployed, surpassing the national rate of 5,4%.

”The Hispanic unemployment rate is up for the fifth time this year,” Velasquez said. He added that ”1,5-million Hispanic Americans are looking for work”.

Hispanics ”tend to agree that John Kerry is the better choice when it comes to the most important issues, such as jobs and accessible health care,” he said.

Bush campaign officials are not impressed.

”We have a great candidate who knows the [Hispanic] community, the community knows him, and he has a long record of achievements… in all the important themes: education, health, immigration and the economy,” said Sharon Castillo, a Bush campaign spokesperson.

Bush needs 40% of Hispanic votes to win, according to campaign strategists. He had 35% of support in 2000.

A recent poll by the Latino Coalition showed that Bush has narrowed 2000 the gap: Kerry had 47% support among Hispanics, against 38% for Bush.

Castillo said Republicans already obtained 39% of the Hispanic vote in the 2002 legislative election. ”We are working to get the majority of Hispanic votes,” she said.

However a Zogby International poll in October gave Kerry a comfortable 60 to 32%lead over Bush among Hispanics. – Sapa-AFP

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Laura Bonilla
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