News Column

Martínez Courts Florida Hispanics in Bid for a Seat in the Senate

October 2004, HISPANIC BUSINESS Magazine
Mel Martínez  tries to become the nation's first Cuban-American and Republican Hispanic senator.
Mel Martínez tries to become the nation's first Cuban-American and Republican Hispanic senator.

BORICUA-FRIENDLY POLITICIAN: Florida Republican Senate candidate Mel Martínez says he is confident that he will win the support of the state's large non-Cuban Hispanic electorate as he tries to become the nation's first Cuban-American and Republican Hispanic senator. "I owe my [primary] victory primarily to the Latinos in the state who gave me their vote of confidence," Mr. Martínez tells Hispanic Business' Washington Insider. "I have many friends in the Puerto Rican community who know me and know my work, and I am sure they will come out and vote for me in November."

Florida's Hispanic population has grown sharply, with the Puerto Rican population in particular climbing by 50 percent in the last 10 years, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics. A majority of the state's Puerto Ricans – who are born U.S. citizens and therefore can vote in presidential elections if they reside in the United States – live in and around Mr. Martínez's central Florida district and, according to surveys, tend to support Democratic candidates. "I know that polls say Latinos support [presidential candidate John] Kerry, but I'm sure that with hard work in the community and telling more people about our message my fellow Latinos will see that voting for me and for the re-election of President Bush will be beneficial to Latinos."

Mr. Martínez is running against former state education commissioner Betty Castor for the seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Bob Graham. If Mr. Martínez wins, he will become the first U.S. senator of Hispanic descent in more than 20 years. Another Hispanic vying for a U.S. Senate seat is Colorado State Attorney General Ken Salazar, a Democrat. He is running against Republican brewery heir Peter Coors for the seat being vacated by retiring Republican Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell. Polls suggest a tight race.

BRINGING OUT PUERTO RICAN VOTERS: The Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration in Washington, D.C., which represents the island government in the mainland United States, announced that it has reached its goal of registering 300,000 new U.S. voters before next month's presidential election.

Many of these voters live in battleground states with growing Puerto Rican populations, including Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. The voter initiative, "Que Nada Nos Detenga (Let Nothing Stop Us)," was created to register half of the eligible but unregistered Puerto Rican voters living in the United States. Started in July 2002, the $12 million registration drive was cited as a factor in increasing first-time voter turnout by more than 70 percent in the 2002 mid-term congressional elections.

A CLASH OVER BATTLEGROUND HISPANICS: Republicans are balking at the prediction by Arizona governor Janet Napolitano that Hispanic voters in the battleground state will back Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. Ms. Napolitano, a Democrat, said that Sen. Kerry will "definitely" win the state in next month's presidential contest. "She has to say that because she has her own party issues to deal with," said Republican National Convention delegate Carmen Bermúdez, chairwoman and CEO of Mission Management and Trust Co. in Tucson. "But if you look around, there are many Hispanic-owned businesses in the state and the numbers are growing. Businesses fare better with a Republican administration and they will fare better with the re-election of President Bush over John Kerry."


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