Can Bush broaden base of Republican Party?

The growing numbers of Hispanics make them a key swing constituency in

For the many Hispanics who have flocked to Colorado's San Luis Valley, the area's natural beauty has been overshadowed by its severe economic plight.

So when Larry Trujillo Sr., a native of the area and a long-standing Democrat, heard George W. Bush talk about establishing the American dream for everyone - and in Spanish - it got his attention.

Eventually it was enough for him to endorse a Republican candidate for president in a very public way.

"Governor Bush fits the philosophies that I have, whether he has an 'R' or a 'D' behind his name," Mr. Trujillo says.

As Bush's campaign moves beyond the Iowa straw-poll victory, a key goal remains earning the hearts and votes of Hispanics. If Trujillo is any example, Bush is making headway.

The Hispanic vote in Colorado and across the United States is becoming a must-win wildcard in the presidential race.

Hispanic makes up approximately 14 percent of the population in the Rocky Mountain state, and nearly 10 percent nationally. By 2010, they are expected to become the largest minority group in the country.

But their importance is not simply a matter of sheer numbers, says Raul Yzaguirre, president of the National Council of La Raza, the largest Hispanic civil rights group in America. "[They're] concentrated in the key electoral states of New York, Illinois, Florida, Texas, and California."

Bush is not the only presidential candidate courting this group. Vice President Al Gore is also making a concerted effort to reach Hispanic voters, touching on issues important to them and sometimes speaking in Spanish.

Yet when shaping their messages, these two leading candidates need to be aware of the increasingly disparate nature of Hispanics, analysts say.

Puerto Rican concerns do not always align with those of Cuban Americans, for example. And Central American immigrants vary culturally from Mexican Americans.

"[Hispanics] in the Southwest have different issues than with Cubans or Puerto Ricans," Trujillo says.

Bush has experience with Hispanic voters. In past campaigns for governor, he was able to showcase his fluency in Spanish and understanding of many issues. In last year's reelection for governor, exit polls showed him capturing a whopping 49 percent of the Hispanic vote.

Traditionally, Hispanics identify more closely with the Democratic Party. But fundamentally, they lean to the right on many social issues, making certain pro-family elements of the Republican platform appealing.

"I am going to make an active effort to reach out to the Hispanic community," Bush told a group of Iowa Hispanics recently. "I did so in the state of Texas and in other states. I am trying to broaden the base of the Republican Party."

Bush has parted ways with his party on bilingual education. And despite Democratic gains in the last national election over this issue and other immigration issues, many believe Bush can make headway.

"I don't think they are anchored to any Democratic candidate," says Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli of Ciruli and Associates.

"Hispanics have been dependably Democratic. But Bush is sort of authentic in his Hispanic outreach. Maybe it's his speaking style from Texas, maybe it's his demeanor."

Some campaign watchers thought Bush was living his own version of "La Vida Loca" last month, choosing to vacation in Maine instead of speaking at the annual National Council of La Raza gathering. Many wore lapel buttons that read "Where's George?" Then he missed a League of United Latin American Citizens gathering, citing scheduling conflicts.

But a month later, the fallout seems minimal and the campaign has a calendar full of Spanish-speaking events.

"He's reaching out to new faces and new voices," says Scott McClellan, a Bush spokesman.

Other Hispanic leaders say Bush's success will ultimately depend on where he falls on issues like immigration policy, taxes, and welfare reform.

"His action plan, or lack of one, is of real importance" in how well he does with Hispanics, says state Rep. Gloria Leyba (D) of Denver. Ms. Leyba represents the city's largest Hispanic constituency.

Many Hispanics will want to see welfare reform reevaluated, and restoration of some benefits for legal immigrants.

"It is a tightrope" between the voters he wants to woo and his own party, Leyba says. "This is a place where he has to take a clear stand or everyone will be dissatisfied."

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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