But Republicans would argue -- and many Democrats would agree -- that Bush has most successfully courted Hispanic voters, an important and rapidly growing demographic group in key electoral states. Bush speaks Spanish at many public events and has paid frequent homage to his Latino constituents, "making a personal, emotional connection" with them, according to Democratic Miami pollster Sergio Bendixen.
Grover G. Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform, said that when his group drew up a proposal for nationwide distribution, they made certain to print a copy in Spanish -- and when they showed the dual language copy to Bush senior political adviser Karl Rove, he kept a copy as a model to show other advocacy groups.
"Democrats hope the Hispanic vote will be like the black vote, but that's not happening," Norquist said. "I've seen pollsters who advise Republicans say that if we win 37 percent of the Hispanic vote, we run the country for the next 50 years. If we drop below 30 percent [of the Hispanic vote], you lose. It's that important." In 2000, Gore received 62 percent of the Hispanic vote, Bush 35 percent.
In the midterm elections of 2002, Republicans made substantial progress winning Hispanic voters, to the dismay of Democrats. Although Democrats had a healthy lead nationwide among Hispanics, Jeb Bush won reelection as governor of Florida with 60 percent of the Hispanic vote, including 55 percent of the non-Cuban Hispanic vote, which had traditionally voted for Democrats. In 2000, Vice President Al Gore had won 70 percent of the non-Cuban Hispanic vote in the state.
Although women have traditionally voted for Democrats by a wide majority, the Democrats held only a 2 percent edge with women in 2002, according to one Democratic pollster. The Democratic vote among union households was 22 percent higher than the Republican vote in 2000; the Democrats' edge in that category slipped to 15 points in the midterms.
Beyond speaking in Spanish, Bush has nominated Latinos to high-profile positions in his administration, including Alberto Gonzales, White House counsel, and Mel Martinez, director of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. And in a move that some Republicans hailed as a brilliant political stroke, Bush nominated a Honduran immigrant, Miguel Estrada, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia -- dividing Democrats between those who support diversity and those opposed to Estrada's conservative views. His nomination is on hold in the Senate.
"A lot of people will misinterpret it as superficial pandering -- a little Spanish, a little mariachi music at the White House -- that it's just token stuff, and some people make the mistake of thinking some of these appointments are token appointments. But what the Republicans are doing is selling access -- saying, 'We may not agree with you on the issues, but if you have a problem … call us, we're here to help," " Bendixen said.
Many Hispanics are also Catholic, the fourth group that Bush has targeted as key to winning reelection. Democrats concede that Catholic voters are vulnerable to Republican poaching, if only because Bush has taken such a firm stand against stem-cell research and abortion and has met twice with Pope John Paul II. His speeches are laced with religious references as well. But when it came to policy matters, the president wasn't listening to the pope. In sending U.S. troops into war, Bush ignored the repeated pleas of the pope, who along with the UN Security Council and many allies had urged Bush to allow UN inspectors more time to search for weapons of mass destruction.
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