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Jewish World Review June 16, 2003 / 16 Sivan, 5763

Michael Barone

Michael Barone
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Making new amigos |
On April 11, at the Bethesda naval hospital, George W. and Laura Bush looked on as Master Gunnery Sgt. Guadalupe Donogean, a Mexican wounded in Iraq, was sworn in as a U.S. citizen. Some 37,000 noncitizens, most of them Hispanic, serve in the U.S. military; Congress is speeding through legislation to make it easier for them to become citizens, and two non- citizens killed in Iraq were granted citizenship posthumously. "It was a very profound moment," Bush said outside the hospital. "We were both honored to witness this." Many Democrats fear that the vision of Bush landing on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln will win votes for him in 2004. But reverberations from that moment in Bethesda, or others like it, may be politically more potent.

That is because Hispanic immigrants are the fastest-growing and politically most fluid segment of the electorate. They were 7 percent of voters in 2000 and could be 9 percent in 2004, most of them in big states. Al Gore carried Hispanics 62 percent to 35 percent. But Bush has courted them assiduously, speaking Spanish, hailing the contributions of immigrants, proposing relaxation of immigration laws (though that's on the back burner now). Every department press office must have a Spanish-speaking spokesperson; Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez appears often on the Univision and Telemundo television networks and talks not just about housing but also about foreign policy and defense.

All of this has paid off. Bush's favorable rating among Hispanics is high--63 percent in a recent Zogby poll, almost as high as his 69 percent among whites and much higher than his 50 percent among blacks. Interestingly, Bush is rated higher among immigrant and Spanish-dominant Hispanics than among the U.S.-born and English-dominant; many of the latter have gotten used to voting Democratic, while newcomers are more open to Bush's appeals. Other Republicans have won about half or more of Hispanic votes in 2001 or 2002--Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. George Pataki in New York, Govs. Jeb Bush in Florida and Bill Owens in Colorado. These are voters up for grabs.

Court fight. Bush will have another issue working for him with Hispanics: the Democrats' blocking of the judicial nomination of Miguel Estrada. Democrats think this is a low-visibility issue and point out that the (all-Democratic) House Hispanic Caucus and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund oppose Estrada. But the two Hispanic organizations with the largest memberships don't: The League of United Latin American Citizens supports Estrada, and the National Council of La Raza is neutral. Martinez and other administration representatives appear frequently on Spanish-language TV and radio to attack Democrats for opposing Estrada, to the point that some Democrats have charged Univision with bias. The message may be getting through. A poll of Hispanics by the pro-Estrada Committee for Justice shows that a surprisingly high 33 percent are aware that Estrada has been nominated and not confirmed.

It is not hard to imagine the ad Bush could run on Spanish-language TV in 2004: President Bush has nominated a Hispanic who came to this country at 17 speaking little English, who graduated from Harvard Law School and argued numerous cases before the Supreme Court--but the Democrats are blocking him by holding him to a different standard from that of any other nominee. Which they are. They demanded to see memos he wrote while in the solicitor general's office, even though such memos have never been revealed before and though they did not make the same demand of another nominee who worked there. They subjected him to a filibuster--something never before done to a judicial nominee with the votes to be confirmed.

This could be political dynamite--a narrative that shows Bush honoring an immigrant who has worked hard and achieved great things and the Democrats discriminating against him. Democrats, confident in 2002 that they would pay no political price for opposing Bush on homeland security at the behest of federal employees' unions, seem confident now that they will pay no political price for opposing him on Estrada at the behest of abortion-rights groups. But in 2002 Bush showed he can shine the spotlight on the hitherto obscure homeland security issue, just as he could shine the spotlight on marines becoming citizens in Bethesda. He could shine it on Estrada in 2004. Democrats think blocking Estrada is clever politics. But they risk alienating America's fastest-growing and most fluid voting bloc.

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Michael Barone Archives

JWR contributor Michael Barone is a columnist at U.S. News & World Report and the author of, most recently, "The New Americans." He also edits the biennial "Almanac of American Politics". Send your comments to him by clicking here.


©2002, Michael Barone