WASHINGTON -- Politicians seeking the Hispanic vote in the November legislative elections must help that community find solutions to pressing immigration, education and health problems, a report released Tuesday said.
The Hispanic vote could play a key, defining role in the election to determine control of Congress for the next two years, as candidates from both parties increasinly vye for traditionally Democratic-leaning Hispanic voters, an allegiance that is not as strong as it once was, the report by the Washington-based Latino Coalition said.
According to the study, 68 percent of Latinos have a favorable opinion of President George W. Bush, an approval rating that climbs to 74 percent among Hispanics who are not registered to vote.
In addition, Hipanics' opinion of Republican lawmakers has risen dramatically in the past year, from an overall approval rating of 23 percent in 2001 to 42 percent this year, while that of Democrats remained unchanged at 53 percent, the report revealed.
Latino Coalition president Robert de Posada said Hispanics associate the Republican Party with the president, as opposed to former California Gov. Pete Wilson, known for his anti-immigrant policies.
"Although Republicans' image is much more positive (now), that success will vanish if candidates fail to demonstrate an interest in and concern for Latinos and their issues," De Posada told a news conference, citing the example of California Gov. Gray Davis, who is favored among Hispanics by a more than 2-to-1 margin over his Republican rival Bill Simon.
The report, prepared by Fabrizio McLaughlin, a conservative polling company that providees general consulting for Republican candidates and converative organizations, was based on interviews with 1,000 U.S. Hispanic adults and has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.
The survey also indicates a leadership vacuum in the Latino community, 75 percent of which is unable to identify any Hispanic leaders on a national level.
The individuals most admired by Hispanics are Mexican President Vicente Fox (3.7 percent); former Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros and House Representative Luis Gutierrez (Dem.-IL).
According to De Posada, the major political parties need to pay attention to the 35 million Hispanics living in the United States.
"The days when one party would ignore the Hispanic vote and the other took advantage of it are gone," he said.
Although 53 percent of Hispanics approve of Bush's handling of immigration issues, 83 percent want the government to legalize the status of the approximately 3.5 million undocumented Mexican immigrants living in the United States, a feat the president is not willing to do.
"Most Latinos have a poor opinion of the public education and immigration systems," De Posada said.
Last week, the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA) released its congressional scorecard, giving Democrats high marks for their support on issues that affect Hispanics.
House Republicans, meanwhile, received a dismal 8.4 percent approval rating versus 83 percent for Democrats, the scorecard showed.
The tally ranks members of Congress according to the votes they cast in both chambers on subjects of importance to Latinos, such as education, civil rights, economic development and health.
The results reflect a Congress deeply divided along partisan lines, Larry Gonzalez, NALEO's Washington director, said in a telephone interview with EFE.
Congress, he added, must be educated on the issues of interest to the Hispanic community and take into account its growth in different sectors of the country.
Among Republicans, the highest marks went to Sen. Lincoln Chafee (Rhode Island), with 55 percent, followed by Sen. Arlen Specter (Pennsylvania), with 45 percent.
No other Republican, however, received a score higher than 36 percent, while right-wing stalwarts such as Don Nickles (Oklahoma) and Jesse Helms (North Carolina) did not receive any positive marks.
Among Democrats, the lowest approval rating of 36 percent went to Sen. Zell Miller (Georgia), while the highest - a perfect 100 - went to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (South Dakota).
The NHLA, founded in 1991, comprises 31 U.S. Latino organizations, including the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund (MALDEF), U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Latino Elected & Appointed Officials (NALEO).
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