GOP Chair: Voters Abroad Key in Elections

WORKING from home with a fax machine, cables, and a steady stream of overnight mail to and from the local post office, Washington resident Dulcie-Ann Sherlock stays in touch with almost 2 million Americans.

Now in her 13th year as an elected chairwoman of the Republicans Abroad/Western Hemisphere, Mrs. Sherlock also travels extensively to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Latin America where she talks issues, registers voters, and acts as trouble-shooter.

"Our mission is to bring out the Republican voter," says Sherlock.

And there are plenty of GOP faithful abroad. Sherlock estimates that 80 percent of the 5 million Americans living outside United States borders are Republicans.

Overall, some 2 million serve in the military (heavily Democratic, Sherlock says) and tens of thousands work in the diplomatic corps. Retirees and corporate professionals make up much of the balance.

US presidential election year issues are as important to Americans from afar as they are to those living within US borders. "The main concern for everyone is the economy, in the US, of course, but also where they are right now," Sherlock says. She adds that for most of the US citizens living overseas, the choice is clear between President Bush and his Democratic challenger Bill Clinton.

US voters living in the Western Hemisphere are keenly aware of the Bush administration's strides in helping to reduce the Caribbean and Latin debt burdens and in bettering trade and economic ties with Canada, Mexico, and Latin America.

"Our voters are all interested in commerce," says Sherlock. Americans residing in Mexico and other Latin countries see the increasing democratization of their host countries, and with it, essential economic reforms and better prospects for US trade and finance.

They know that inflation is dropping and that the local currency goes further than it did. Sherlock, who has traveled to Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Panama, and Peru this year, in addition to a trip through the Caribbean, says she's noticed progress.

"Before, when you bought something, you had to be very careful to count the many zeros on the end of bills. Slowly, the zeroes are lopping off," she says with a grin.

Bush's strong push for the North America Free Trade Agreement, and Governor Clinton's comparative reluctant support have also registered with Americans.

"Our voters see the need to get more aggressive in marketing US exports and building plants and factories throughout the region. One thing you have to grant the Bush administration is that it has been very out front on this."

Private businessmen and executives abroad fear that if Clinton wins in November, "he'll do away with the $70,000 income-tax exemption," Sherlock says.

"They're already strained by high living and education costs. The tax exemption is enough to keep them abroad. Without it, they'd pack up and come home and we'd lose our representation."

Latin American voters, those who hold American or dual citizenship and have moved back to the region, are an increasingly important percentage of Republicans abroad.

The biggest bulk of the absentee voters hail from Florida, California, Texas, and New York, four of the crucial Big Ten states.

"We're becoming more and more of a swing vote," says Sherlock. "Both Sen. Connie Mack (R) of Florida and [former California Republican] Gov. George Deukmejian were elected by the absentee vote," she says. These voters are carefully watching Bush's handling of the economic devastation in south Florida from Hurricane Andrew.

Sherlock is very familiar with the turf she covers these days. Her father served as ambassador to Canada, the former Soviet Union, and a host of Central and South American countries. As an unpaid volunteer, she works with a $25,000 budget that does not cover her home office equipment or her costly travel and correspondence to the region. This year, she's already racked up $20,000 in political, and hence non-tax-deductible, expenses.

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